Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas cookies and preparations!

As the year comes to an end, a big project I've been working on for the last six months is coming to its final stages, too. It took center stage in my life and didn't leave time for much else, which explains the absence of travelogues and social media activity in recent months, as well as the shocking failure to send out Christmas cards, just to name a few. I hope to unveil the project in February and resume my normal life then!

Previously at this time of year, I'd be blogging about holiday outfits, but I only just started Christmas preparations and haven't spent much thought on outfits yet. I thought I'd share my family's Christmas cookie recipes, along with my childhood memories, with you instead. Also posting a few pictures of this year's decorations, inspired by the colors nature puts out for the season.

When I was a little girl, Christmas used to begin at tea-time on December 24th. The morning felt like the longest day of the year, as my brother and I weren't allowed to enter the downstairs living area. Behind closed doors, my parents set up the room and decked the tree. Around 5 pm, when dusk set in, a faint little bell would ring and at the sound, we rushed downstairs. The living room doors opened and we were greeted by sheer magic, the entire space was lit by just candlelight and a festive Christmas tree had taken center stage. We'd glance excitedly at the gifts under the tree and then settle with our parents at the coffee table, which was laid out with beautiful porcelain and the Christmas cookies my mother made. We'd listen to Christmas carols, enjoy the cookies and watch the candles on the Christmas tree slowly burning down. These were such peaceful, contemplative and happy times, mixed with a tingling of excitement at the prospect of unwrapping the Christmas gifts later in the evening. 

In my adult life, the main celebrations have moved to the 25th, but Christmas still begins on the evening of the 24th when the family gathers by the candlelit tree to listen to carols with cookies and a glass of champagne.  The cookie recipes have a long tradition, they were handed down from previous generations on both my parent's sides, my mother's Finnish and my father's German. When my father was a little boy (picture further down), "Christmas tasted the same" as it does for my family now, and his mother's cookies have become an evocative taste of Christmas for my husband's family over the years, too. Traditions evolve and change with each generation and new sets of memories are created, but the recipes below have always been at the heart of Christmas for my family. I hope they bring new Christmas joys to your home and perhaps become part of your traditions, too.

Recipe #1 - Else's Christmas cookies

Recipe #2 - Spitzbuben (German for rascal or scamp), a German Christmas classic

Recipe #3 Snowballs - small round cookies with chopped almonds and chocolate, dusted in icing sugar

Recipe #4 - Piparkakut - a Finnish Christmas classic and a fragrant version of the gingerbread man

Else’s Christmas Cookies - Recipe #1

My father with his sister and their beloved mother Else. 

(I checked the original recipe in Else's cookbook, and it turns out that it was given to her by her aunt Anna on December 29, 1912. She probably visited Anna after Christmas that year and must have asked her for the recipe!)

Makes around 35-40
(depending on how much of the dough you 'sample'. I usually double or triple the ingredients, depending on how many we are on Christmas.)

125 gr soft butter (0.55 US cups or 4.4 oz)
125 gr caster sugar (0.63 US cups or 4.4 oz)
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125 gr chopped almonds (4.4 oz)
165 gr all-purpose flour (1.14 US cups or 5.8 oz)
Redcurrant jelly
Icing sugar/lemon/decoration for the frosting

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs (one by one) while continuing to beat. Reduce the mixing speed and add the cinnamon, then the chopped almonds. Reduce mixing speed to the lowest level and add the flour in batches. The dough needs to remain moist but also manageable. If still too wet, add a little extra flour.

Place the dough into a bowl covered in clingfilm and leave overnight in a fridge.

Roll out the dough the next day (2-3mm thick) and use a round cookie cutter (or a shot glass with sharp rims) to cut out the cookies.

Place on a tray covered with baking parchment.

Place in a pre-heated oven (180˚Celsius/350˚Fahrenheit) and bake until the rims are getting golden:

Remove the parchment from the hot baking tray and put it on a cool surface. Place a dollop of redcurrant jelly into the center of every other cookie.

Place the remaining cookies on top.

The original recipe uses Rose Hip Jelly, which I replace for simplicity with redcurrant jelly (my favorite is by Bonne Maman)

Let the cookies completely cool out. Prepare the decorations (Pine kernels, almond slices, pistachios, candied cherries cut in half, sugar pearls, etc.), cover the cookies with icing (I add a dash of fresh lemon juice to the icing) and decorate to your heart’s content!

Spitzbuben - Recipe #2 

Makes around 35

125 gr soft butter (0.55 US cups or 4.4 oz)
60 gr caster sugar (0.3 US cups or 2.1 oz)
30 gr vanilla sugar (2.5 tablespoons or 1 oz)
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
65 gr powdered almonds (2.3 oz)
150 gr all-purpose flour (1.03 US cups or 5.3 oz)
redcurrant jelly
icing sugar for dusting

Same process as above, except that you dust the cookies with icing sugar instead of frosting them.

Snowballs - Recipe #3

makes 80

125 gr soft butter (0.55 US cups or 4.4 oz)
70 gr caster sugar (0.35 US cups or 2.5 oz)
30 gr vanilla sugar (0.15 US cups or 1 oz)
pinch of salt
1 egg
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125 gr chopped almonds (4.4 oz)
125 gr chopped dark chocolate (4.4 oz)
200 gr all-purpose flour (1.38 US cups or 7 oz)
Icing sugar for dusting

Make the dough in the same way as above and leave in the fridge overnight. Form little balls with your hands, place them on a baking tray covered in parchment and bake in a pre-heated oven (180˚ celsius/350˚FH) for around 8 minutes. Once cooled off, dust with icing sugar.

Piparkakut - Recipe #4 


Makes around 50, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

125 gr butter (0.66 US cups or 4.4 oz)
100 gr caster sugar (0.5 US cups or 3.5 oz)
1 egg
100 gr molasses or black treacle. If not available, you can use golden syrup (0.3 US cups or 3.5 oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
200 gr all-purpose flour (1.38 US cups or 7 oz)

Place the molasses, spices, salt, sugar and butter into a saucepan, stir to make a smooth mixture and bring it slowly to the boiling point. Remove from heat as soon as the boiling point is reached and let it cool. Transfer to a mixing bowl and beat until the mixture has become a little bit lighter and fluffier. Beat in the egg. Combine the flour with the baking soda. Reduce mixing speed and add the flour in batches.  The dough needs to remain moist but also manageable. If still too wet, add a little extra flour.

Place the dough into a bowl covered in clingfilm and leave overnight in a fridge.

Roll out the dough thinly the next day and use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out the cookies. Place in a pre-heated oven (200˚Celsius/390˚Fahrenheit) and bake for about 5 minutes.

Let them cool off completely and decorate with icing to your liking.


The doughs get difficult to handle once they've reached room temperatures. Therefore I leave them in the fridge and work through them in small batches.

Instead of covering a kitchen surface with flour when rolling out the dough, I cut a large freezer bag open and place the dough inside. This way the dough doesn't get to floury and also won't stick to the rolling pin or kitchen surface. Before cutting out the cookies, open both freezer bag's sides to make sure the dough doesn't stick on either.

Make sure that the cookies are hot out of the oven when you stick them together with the redcurrant jelly. 


I am still a little bit behind on preparations this year, but I made the Christmas pudding, put up a few wreaths and decorations, started baking and wrapped most presents. Writing this post installed a festive mood in me and I look forward to celebrating Christmas cheer with my family next week.

Two more days...

You can probably guess why this is one of my favorite ornaments!

The Christmas pudding, already made in November (recipe here)

And another favorite, unsurprisingly!

Wrapping paper by the Italian printer Tassotti (they have beautiful non-holiday papers too, all of which can be ordered here)

In keeping with the traditional theme, I'll be decorating the table in a similar way to this setting from the previous year:

Last year's tree

Wishing you all happy holidays, a merry Christmas and a fabulous, healthy and happy New Year 2020 ahead!



  1. Dear Mai Tai,

    What a lovely, generous and positively magical post! We share similar family traditions. (My father was German and my mother is Italian.) We also celebrated on Christmas Eve in the European tradition. Your cookie recipes bring back so many cherished holiday memories! I am inspired to make some now with my 84 year old mother!

    Please know how very much I enjoy your website - your posts, photographs and shop. Your kind spirit and clear zest for life radiate throughout!

    Wishing you and your family the happiest of seasons and celebrations and a most marvelous New Year!



    1. My dear Bianca, - I'm so very happy to know that the post evoked cherished memories. Hope you got round to make the recipes with your mother. The moments where we spend time together to create things, often become our fondest and happiest memories.
      Wishing you a most wonderful and fabulous New Year 2020! xxx

  2. Dear Mai Tai,

    Have a wonderful Christmas.
    Thankyou for sharing your precious memories and family recipes.

    Best wishes for 2020,

    1. Dear DK,

      Thanks so much for the lovely good wishes.

      Hope you had a merry Christmas and have a healthy, happy and wonderful New Year!

  3. My heart always gives a jump for joy when I see a post by Mai Tai. Merry Christmas

    1. My heart jumped with joy at your lovely comment! Hope you had a great Christmas and wishing you all the best for the New Year!

  4. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you so much for your family's holiday traditions. Cookies are my favorite dessert and I hope to give your recipes a go. As a wrapping paper fanatic, I love seeing how other people wrap their presents. I love your choices, especially the one with the little pods. Those pods would make great hats for some little creature!

    Can't wait to see your new project! Merry Chirstmas and Happy New Year to you and your family! Be well -- be happy! xoxo, Marla

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely words, dearest Marla! Hope you had a merry Christmas and that you might have had a chance to try the recipes. Agree with you on the desert part... cookies, macarons and madeleines are on the top of my list too. Have a wonderful remaining holiday season and a fabulous and happy New Year 2020! xxx

  5. Dear MaiTai,
    thank you so much for that great christmas-gift: the recipes of your families! I will keep them like a treasure, because I've always admired you for preparing such perfect cookies. Unfortunately, my cookies are never that perfect...
    The photo of your father is really adorable, it touches me deeply! Thank you so much for sharing!
    Now I'm really excited of your upcoming project! I'm really looking forward to it!
    For now I hope, that you will reach rest and christmas mood as soon as possible.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!
    Best wishes Claudia

    1. My dear Claudia, this is probably one of my most personal posts and I am very touched by your lovely comment. Vielen lieben Dank! My dad was very special to me and I love the picture of him as a little boy so much. Happy it speaks to you, too. Hope you enjoy making the cookies, they are not only delicious, but fill the kitchen with a heavenly smell.
      Hope your Christmas was merry and bright, and have a happy, healthy and wonderful New Year ahead!
      Ganz liebe Grüsse

  6. I am always besotted by your annual Christmas post. I, too, spend hours baking cookies and treats from recipes handed down through the generations, and my packages usually receive comments that they’re “too pretty to open,” although they’re never as chic and beautiful as yours.

    And, I’m always asked, as I bet you are, “why do you spend hours doing these things?” Yes, I suppose I could buy acceptable treats from the bakery, and I could have the stores wrap my gifts. But, it wouldn’t be the same. In my mind, it would be lacking; it would fall short.

    I do it, as I’m sure you do, as a way of showing love and of honoring family and tradition. When I pull out my mother’s recipes, written in her hand, they always bring a tear to my eye, but they also bring memories of past Christmas joy and happiness. And then, if by magic, she is there with me once again.

    Thank you for sharing your own family memories and traditions with us. I wish you joy this Christmas, and I wish all of you here much happiness and many memories wherever you are and however you celebrate.

    Much love and good cheer,

    1. Dearest Jerrine, - your beautiful words evoked such a deep sense of the spirit of Christmas and the importance of love, care and traditions. I learned so much from my mother and father, and as you say, our parents are back with us as we carry the tradtions on. In a way, it is partly the reason I decided to share some of mine on the blog, hoping they'd live on, even if I won't be here one day. Christmas always bring a little tear into my eyes as well, I miss my parents immensly. But then there are so many happy memories and there is so much to be grateful for, and a festive and a joyful Christmas cheer prevails. Much, much love Dearest and have a fabulous 2020 xxx

  7. Dearest Tai,
    I have been looking forward to this post, hoping you wouldn’t break with the tradition this year and I’m so thrilled to hear about the ones of your family. They are very similar to my childhood memories and we have been keeping them up with our kids. Just the baking takes place early in Advent rather than just before Christmas as we used to do it. The cookie tins were only opened on Christmas whilst ours are half empty by now :) Your cookies look like from a patisserie and the decorations are divine- love every bit about it and your tree will be just as fabulous this year, I bet. Enjoy the festive season with your loved ones, have a wonderful celebration and be assured that we can’t wait to hear about your new project...a coffee table book as many of my fellow swans have suggested on many occasions? Let’s see!
    Merry Xmas, happy holidays and the very best for 2020 to you and all the swans out there xoxo

    (comment received via email, posted on Katja's behalf)

    1. My dearest Katja, - I imagined we would've had similar tradtions when growing up. Like you, we weren't allowed a single cookie before Christmas Eve, and likewise, things have changed in our household as well. Even though my baking starts just before Christmas, the cookie jars are half-empty by the time the Christmas tree candles get lit. There is no point in going against the flow! The February unveil will not bring a book, but I hope the swans will enjoy it nevertheless. Hope you and your family enjoyed a wonderful and happy Christmas time and have a fabulous 2020 ahead! xxx

  8. What a lovely post! Thank you so much for sharing your holiday traditions and recipes, and your beautiful photos. Look forward to hearing about your new project!
    Best wishes for a marvelous holiday season,

    1. Thanks so much, dear Deborah! The new project is a true labor of love... I don't think I could have gotten through the massive amount of work otherwise. Can't wait to unveil it! Hope your holiday season was magical and have a fabulous New Year 2020 ahead!

  9. Loved this post so much. Your decorating is simply gorgeous and an inspiration. Merry Christmas, Miss Mai Tai!

    1. So happy you enjoyed the post, thanks so much for the kind words! Have a wonderful and happy New Year 2020!

  10. Do you put real candles on the tree ? I love the look, but with young kids it's too dangerous !

    1. Always real candles :) Obviously they're not left unsupervised when lit.

  11. Merry Christmas Mai Tai! I admit I have missed your fashion posts and thank you for this peek into your Christmas. I'm curious what you serve for your Christmas dinner if you want to share. I made your Christmas pudding last year and this year and it has become a tradition (they ask for it now!). Happy New Year too!

    1. So very happy that the Christmas Pudding has become a tradition in your home, this is wonderful! Our main meal is Christmas lunch on the 25th. We have turkey, roast potatoes, caramelized carrots, onions and parsnips, brussel sprouts and chestnuts. Desert is Christmas pudding with whipped cream and ice cream. Have a wonderful and happy New Year too!

  12. Dear Mai Tai - Thanks for sharing your magical Christmas traditions and cookie recipes with us. Wishing you and your family a blessed New Year.

    Aloha from Fifi

    1. Dearest Fifi, - thanks so much for the lovely and kind good wishes! Hope you had a merry Christmas and wishing you a very happy New Year 2020! xxx

    2. Fifi,so glad to see you here!
      Sending you all of the best as we roll into 2020! Tx

    3. Dearest MT,
      Thank you for this beautiful, heartfelt post. I am sure this walk down memory lane stirred many special memories for you. Thank you for the generous spirit you always share with us, here.
      I always wish we had scratch and sniff when you share your baking recipes!

      Wishing you and yours a most wonderful New Year filled with love, light and good heath!
      Sending the same wishes to all gathered here!
      Chin chin to the roaring 20’s,
      T xx

    4. Darling Trudye, - your words are always so warm, upbeat and fun, and full of life. "Chin chin to the roaring 20's" is SO you, and the best greeting for the new decade I heard. Wish you could pop by for the next baking session and hope you might one day. Have a most wonderful, happy, healthy and fabulous New Year! Roars and biggest mwahs xx

  13. Dear Trudye -- Best to you in the New Year, you irrepressible sprite, you!

  14. Dearest Taina,

    What a beautiful post!
    Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your childhood memories with us and the recipes of your beautiful Christmas cookies.
    I have tried some of your recipes before and must say I am very fond of them all. I will definitely try these ones too.
    Can’t wait to see what your big project is about and do look forward to it. How exciting it is!
    I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a marvellous 2020 filled with joy, good health and happiness.
    Much love,

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, my dearest Manuela! So happy you enjoy my recipes and hope you'll be fond of the cookie ones, too. The big project is exiting indeed and I can't wait to reveal it, hopefully in February! Wishing you a fabulous, happy and healthy 2020, filled with many beautiful moments! Much love xxx