I don't remember exactly how or when it started, but Eugene and I somehow got into the habit of bringing each other little treats for no particular reason. His gifts are usually sweet and edible--like a handful of salted caramels or a little box of fancy chocolates; mine are usually a little more weird and useless--like a 99-cent wind-up baby chicken toy or a thimble-sized "I Love NY" mug.
[Reading that last sentence over again I realized that it sounds like his gifts are better than mine, but I should note that those fancy chocolates tasted bad (he agreed), and that the wind-up baby chicken has provided us with endless seconds of amusement, so we've basically come out even.]
In keeping with this tradition, Eugene came home recently with a little crumpled white bag and handed it to me. "This is for you," he said excitedly.
I pulled out a thick, round shortbread cookie, and after inspecting it a bit, took a bite. It was awesome! Simply-flavored, with a slight chew in the center, and a subtle almond and anise flavor.
"It's called a farmer cookie," he told me. He'd bought it at a Swedish bakery located near his office, where he and his friends occasionally have lunch.
I immediately started researching Swedish farmer cookies, and found a few recipes. Called Bondkakor, these cookies are a Scandinavian treat usually served around Christmas time, but delicious year-round. The bakery Eugene went to, Fika, has these on their permanent menu and charges a whopping TWO DOLLARS per cookie. (Incidentally, THIS.)
Personally, I'm of the opinion that normal-sized cookies should never be sold individually. Three is the minimum cookie serving size. Three is better for sharing, too. (As in, "one for you, TWO for me!")
I baked my first batch of these a few weeks ago, but Eugene didn't like them. Not even when I gave them to him for free. "They're not good. They don't taste right."
I blame the butter, which wasn't all that new and smelled kind of fridge-y. Also, I used walnuts instead of almonds, and added orange zest and cinnamon. I actually don't think they were bad (except for the fridge-y butter part); they were just a totally different cookie. It's like taking a sip of Dr. Pepper when you ordered a Coke.
So I tabled that recipe (trust me; it will be back), and went back to the original, using almonds for almonds, and keeping my hands away from the microplane.
And this time, Eugene liked them. "What did you do differently to make them good?" he asked midway through his third cookie.
"I didn't add weird stuff," I replied.
The awesome thing about these cookies is that they have all the buttery richness of shortbread, but with a slight chewy part in the center. It's not ooey-gooey chewy, more of a soft little give. This comes from the addition of molasses or golden syrup (molasses, which lives in brown sugar, is also what gives chocolate chip cookies their chew). I tell you this so that you don't go skipping it.
Also, don't add weird stuff.
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Almond Farmer Cookies (bondkakor)
makes 2 dozen cookies
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons Golden Syrup or Molasses
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (optional but adds a lovely licorice undertone to the cookie, can also sub anise seeds)
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Cream the butter, sugar, and golden syrup or molasses in the base of an electric mixer for 5 minutes until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume. Mix in the almond extract.
Sift together the fennel seeds if using, flour, chopped almonds, and baking soda.
Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix only until fully and evenly combined. Turn dough out into a floured surface and divide in half, shaping each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours (up to 3 days).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Slice rolls into 1/2 inch slices and bake in batches on lined cookie sheets, keeping each cookie about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes, until the cookies puff up and start to get a bit of color around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks. Eat immediately or store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. (Taste best when fresh.)
This batch makes about two dozen cookies, depending how thick you cut them.