I spend a lot of time thinking about how we share recipes — how we write them, why we share them and what a particular recipe might tell us about its author.
The way we write a recipe allows us to exchange information that is both agreed upon and meant to be reused. It follows a simple format, or, at least, appears to follow one.
A good recipe always itemizes its ingredients for a quick pantry check and shopping list, offering unquestionable step-by-step instructions with the authority of an executive chef.
The Latin root of the word recipe is “recipere,” meaning both to give and to receive. And, recipes, by their very nature, require that we give instructions with specific intentions. Whether we think about it consciously or not, we transcribe recipes hoping they will be shared again and again.
Today’s recipe for “Vanillekranse,” or Danish Vanilla Cookies, has been permanently magnetized to my friend Lise’s fridge for years. It’s one of those simple, delicate butter cookies that isn’t too sweet or buttery and goes wonderfully with a hot cup of coffee or tea. It’s a remarkably simple cookie Lise likes to keep handy that was given to her by her Danish mother, and, now, has been shared with me.
The simplicity of this recipe always amazes me. With only five ingredients (no baking soda or baking powder), it can be relayed in two sentences: “Mix all of the above. Can be placed close together on cookie sheet. 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.”
All of us have seen the family recipe card with its terse instructions that explain a far more complicated dessert or dish. These recipes expect a lot of previous knowledge on the reader’s part, often assuming the recipe has been shared with them before.
And, when transcribing this recipe for future readers, I didn’t really want to change it. I like the original and how it reminds me of my friend Lise’s mother, Anna Jorgensen, who I grew up watching make these cookies every year.
In her kitchen, Anna would stand over a floury surface, kneading the dough together and feeding it through a cookie press. My own mother wasn’t much of a baker, and I remember the excitement I’d feel as each gesture created perfectly textured lines of dough that she’d shape into small — also perfectly shaped — circular wreaths.
When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I asked Anna why she didn’t decorate her cookies with fancy sprinkles or nuts on top. Her answer was as simple as the recipe itself: “because it’s not how they’re made.”
And she was right. That’s not how you make Danish Vanilla Cookies. The subtly sweet vanilla dough doesn’t want for unnecessary garnishes, which is probably why they’re so popular not just in Lise’s home, but also your local grocery store aisle in those iconic blue tins.
It’s not that recipes shouldn’t be altered. In fact, I highly recommend this. Discovering your personal tastes and learning how to adjust ingredients for your needs are all very important parts of the cooking process.
But, when it comes to this recipe for perfect Danish Vanilla Cookies, I don’t know if this is one of them.
With five ingredients, the concept is incredibly simple — mix, bake and eat.
Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org