Dining with Antiques – Christmas Rosettes, those Favorite Nordic Christmas Treats (with Recipe)

In the 1840s and 1850s, northern Europe experienced a wave of crop failures and food shortages that resulted in a flood of immigration to the United States. Scandinavian settlers brought with them the tradition of making an assortment of delicious Christmas cookies using open fireplaces and cast iron implements. Over time, cultures blended into America’s melting pot and traditions became diluted. But these fascinating cookie-making tools can sometimes still be found, hidden among the Dutch ovens, skillets and other cast iron miscellany on tables at outdoor flea markets.

The antique kitchen implements used to make these Christmas Rosettes are highly collectible and can still be used as designed.

The items, resembling small branding irons (with screw-on “brands”), are used to make rosettes, a favorite Nordic Christmas treat.

They are especially prevalent in the area northwest of the Great Lakes and into the northern plains states, where many Norwegian and Swedish immigrants settled after the Civil War. These tools are often unidentified or mislabeled, but they still make wonderful cookies.

The heated, decorative end of the implement is dipped in batter and then immersed into hot oil or lard to fry. When browned, the cookie is gently eased off the iron and dusted with powdered sugar. The cookie is somewhat similar to a light and airy, crispy funnel cake, but it is less sweet and not as dense.

Some people collect the old implements because of the variations in shapes and designs. They make wonderful rustic wall hangings, especially over a mantle. Rosettes can resemble roses (the traditional shape) as well as stars, butterflies, diamonds, hearts, snowflakes, wheels and various geometric designs. Many sets also come with screw-in timbale (or patty) molds to make delicate pastry shells with the same batter. The shells can be filled with whipped cream, custard, jam or fruit.

Rosettes were also favored by German immigrants, who called them waffelbäckerei. A popular German boxed set from the 1930s includes recipes and instructions in English, German and French. The English version calls the treats “waffles” or “wafers” and even suggests serving them as a main dish with savory cream sauces containing asparagus, chicken, hard-boiled eggs or spinach. If you can find an old German set, it is a fun addition to any collection.

An early 1900s long-handled rosette and timbale set made from cast iron.

An early 1900s long-handled rosette and timbale set made from cast iron.

This short, double-handled rosette set from the 1930s made from heavy aluminum.

This short, double-handled rosette set from the 1930s made from heavy aluminum.

A 1930s German Waffelbäckerei boxed set.

A 1930s German Waffelbäckerei boxed set.

The antique cast-iron tools with wood handles (or no handles) are the most valuable and collectible. But don’t worry if you can’t find them. Many cooks with Scandinavian ancestors still make rosettes as an annual Christmas tradition and several companies (such as Nordic Ware, Ursula, Sugarcraft and Kitchen Emporium) produce the cookie and timbale irons using a modern aluminum alloy. To avoid sticking, the new utensils require a little seasoning with oil and heat before use.

Traditional Rosettes

2 eggs
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup flour

Beat eggs slightly with sugar and salt. Add milk and flour and blend until smooth. Heat lard or vegetable oil to 375 degrees. Place the decorative end of the iron in the oil for a minute or two to heat, then gently wipe clean.

Quickly dip the heated iron into the batter but do not allow the batter to come over the top of the mold. Immerse in hot oil for 20 to 30 seconds until golden. Using tongs, tap the rosette off of the iron onto absorbent paper to drain. Heat the iron in the oil and wipe again before making the next rosette.

When cooled, sprinkle the rosettes with powdered sugar. This recipe makes approximately 40 cookies.

NOTES: Rosettes take some practice to perfect, but they are worth the effort! If the batter does not adhere to the iron, the iron may be too cold or have too much oil on it. If the rosette falls off of the iron into the oil, there is not enough flour in the batter. If the oil is too hot or too cold, the cookies may not set properly or will be too greasy. It is amazing to imagine how these tender rosettes were originally made—with heavy cast iron tools, using a large cauldron over an open wood fire.

The traditional recipe (that is several hundred years old) contains very little sugar. Sweetness comes from the powdered sugar sprinkled over the top. Some modern adaptations suggest adding additional sugar or butter to the batter and sometimes call for anise, cocoa, rum, almond, vanilla or lemon flavoring.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books. “Dining with Antiques” is an ongoing feature in which she highlights collectible dinnerware and food-related antiques, along with vintage recipes.

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