These thin, flavorful cookies are the essence of Christmas to our family, but really they are a special heirloom treat that I am sharing with you today. My maternal grandmother’s family hails from Switzerland, and these cookies have survived generations. The tradition nearly died with my grandmother and her beautiful vintage Jura bretzeli iron, but my mother was able to track down a company in Switzerland who was willing to sell to the US. There is one in Wisconsin that sells them, but for the moment, they offer Pizelle Bakers in place of the bretzeli iron (I’m not entirely sure when, if at all, they will be back in stock). I have to warn, however, that bretzelis made on pizelle bakers are not quite the same in taste or texture. Though, if you have one, I would definitely make these regardless. Bretzelis are irresistible in all their forms.
Because of the labor-intensive nature of these cookies, my family serves these only on very special occasions. Recently, at a family gathering one of my friends admitted to eating a whole stack (15-ish)! I am not at all surprised. In fact, it made me feel like they were one of the family. No one who fully appreciates these cookies can simply eat one or two. Generally when my grandmother would make them, we would all hoard stacks of cookies. And each time that I make a batch of my own, I find myself reflecting on the great labor of love my grandmother put into making all those stacks and stacks of cookies ready for us on each visit.
In fact, the tradition and ritual around making these, was a part of one of my artist books Three Little Girls Visit Grandma, which I wrote some time ago. You can read an excerpt and see an illustration of the process here.
Now, the recipe:
3/4 lb butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons cream
3 Tablespoons lemon juice (or juice of one lemon)
rind of one lemon
6 cups flour (approximately)
Getting the right consistency of the dough is key to successful round cookies. Allow the butter to soften just enough to cream with sugar. Add eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Incorporate by mixing. Add the lemon juice and rind, and slowly sift the 6 cups of flour into the mixture one cup at a time. Make sure the dough is sticky and thick. Once mixed, store in refrigerator to chill for an hour with plastic wrap tightly fitted over top of the dough itself.
Once chilled, before pulling the dough out of the refrigerator set up your cooking station. Place the Bretzeli iron itself on top of a cookie sheet to catch inevitable drippings and cast-off dough that has fallen in the gutter of the machine. Plug in and allow to heat up. Meanwhile, place a wire cooling rack to the side of the bretzeli iron, and bring out chilled dough. With a spoon break away a spoonful of dough and roll into a ball shape. You will need 4 ready at all times, and these need to remain chilled, so if dough softens, refrigerate immediately.
Cooking time is entirely up to you. The first few batches of cookies will vary in darkness and cooking. Bretzelis should be golden in color and thin, but not too brittle in thickness.
Hope you try this recipe!
Photo Credits: 1 // Allan Morton, 2-7 // Ann Neslen via Drippingpaintbrush
*What kind of family heirloom recipes do you make at Christmas time?