Thursday, December 24, 2009

Danish Kleiner (Klejner)

It’s not Christmas without Kleiner in my family. My Mom learned how to make Kleiner from watching her mother, who learned it from watching her mother-in-law, known to Mom as Bestemar. Bestemar came to the US from Denmark in 1905 (in part to escape religious persecution, if you can believe it).  Anyway, at least one weekend in December was always devoted to Kleiner making. Mom would sometimes stay up into the wee hours of the morning frying cookies. I’ve found that you can break up the process into three nights – dough one night, shaping the next, frying the last day. Mom was a bit of a perfectionist (!) when it came to Kleiner – she usually made cookies so uniform and regular they seemed factory made. She was not adverse to throw our “poor” attempts to shape the cookies back into the dough bowl. I don’t think she even considered letting me help her until I was at least 10, maybe 12.

The recipe we inherited from Bestemar left much to the imagination - including referring to ingredients in the instructions that are not listed in the ingredient list! Apparently everyone knew how to cook then and such attention to detail was unnecessary. This is my much-fleshed-out recipe. Perhaps with this my cousins can make a tin or two for next Lille-Yule! Just kidding, I know Kleiner is a Degn-McPeck responsibility.

Bestemar’s Danish Kleiner

Takes 3 to 4 hours – or three nights
Makes about 4 dozen “Susan-sized” cookies, 3 dozen “Alma-sized)
Susan = My Mother
Alma = My Grandmother (mother’s mother)
Bestemar = My Great-grandmother (mother’s father’s mother)


2 mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Hand mixer
Stout wooden spoon
Flat work surface
Rolling pin
Butter knife
Wax paper or parchment paper
Dinner fork or frying scoop
Pan deep enough for frying (at least 2 inches deep)
Brown wrapping paper or brown paper bags cut to lie flat
Small paper bag
Aluminum foil
Cookie tins


3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or cardamom
½ cup butter, melted
4 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4-5 cups flour (depends on how finer the flour is – the finer the flour, the more you need)


1½ pounds shortening or oil (I like to use grapeseed oil because it has a buttery flavor. Sue and Alma always used Crisco vegetable, i.e. soy, oil)


2 cups sugar for decorating
1 tsp vanilla or other flavoring, like cardamom (optional)


Making the dough

(1) Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla together until smooth with hand blender.

(2) Mix in cream and melted butter.

(3) In a separate bowl, sift together baking powder, salt and 3 cups of the flour.

(4) Slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the dough, adding about ¼ to ½ a cup of flour at a time. You will only be able to use a hand mixer for first cup or so of flour, then move to a sturdy spoon. (I have broken wooden spoons mixing the dough before – beware!)

The last cup of flour usually needs to be worked in by hand a tiny bit at a time. You want the dough to be pulling off the sides of the bowl, but not as firm as pie dough. (I’ve never tried a free standing mixer for this, let me know if you try it and it works).

Too sticky:

Just right:

(5) Let dough chill in refrigerator or cool room before shaping. It should be firm and easy to roll out (this takes about half an hour). Susan generally made it a little softer - about like bread dough, then kneaded in more dough when she rolled out the cookies.

Shaping the cookies

(1) Roll out a softball-sized hunk of dough to about ¼ inch thick. You can try a bigger hunk as you get used to the process. Thinner dough is harder to work with and can fall apart when frying. Thicker dough takes longer to cook and can be a bit cakey. Sue tended to roll the cookies thicker than Alma.

(2) Using an upside down butter knife, draw parallel lines through the dough, about 1 inch (Susan size) to 1½ (Alma size) inches apart. You can make them even bigger if you like. According to Susan, Bestemar made them the size of donuts.

(2) Draw crossing, almost-perpendicular lines, across the first lines, in order to create diamond shapes. Cut a 1/2 to 1 inch slit in the center of each diamond shape (depending on how big you make the cookies). Remove edge pieces.

(3) Peel off one diamond shape from the edge by sliding butter knife under the dough. Use thumbs to widen the slit, then fold top corner into slit.

(4) Roll edges toward center, and pull the top corner up at the same time.

(5) Pinch corner, if desired. Susan always pinched the corner and rolled the sides in tightly. , Alma usually didn’t pinch the corner and left a hole in the middle. Susan’s are easier to fry, Alma’s are crispier.

(6) Place cookie on a tray lined with wax or parchment paper. Repeat for all diamonds. Continue rolling out, cutting and shaping until you run out of dough. We always eat the leftovers raw (it’s not Christmas without Kleiner dough). But you don’t have to be gross like us.

Cooking and finishing

(1) Pour about a cup of granulated sugar in a small paper bag. I like to add a few drops of vanilla or a few pinches of cardamom, then roll up top of bag tightly and turn over several times to mix, or mix into the sugar by hand. Susan and Alma usually used plain sugar. You want the sugar to be ready to go before you start frying cookies.

(2) Line some trays or your flat work surface with at least two layers of brown paper. The brown paper needs to be reasonably close to the fryer.

It’s best to have a fryer and a sugar-er. It takes a lot longer to fry and sugar by yourself, and you risk burning cookies. It’s always a good idea to have a least one person keep an eye on the hot oil.

(3) Fry cookies in at least an inch and a half of hot oil (about 350 degrees) until golden brown. If you don’t use enough oil you risk “sunburning” them on the bottoms.

You need to flip them at least once (with a dinner fork or frying scoop), about a minute or so after they float up to the top. It doesn’t hurt to check every minute or so until you get the hang of it.

I usually put about six in the oil at a time, then add six more when I flip the first six, or do 12 at once. The oil will get bubbly – sometimes so much so that it’s hard to see the cookies. Just skim the bubbles off and put them on the brown paper.

(4) Once cookies reach the desired color, place on brown paper to cool. Susan usually made them lighter, Alma darker.

(5) Sugar cookies by placing slightly warm cookies in sack of sugar. Gently toss to evenly coat. You can do this by folding up the top tightly and turning the bag over a few times, or just put your hands in and pour sugar over the cookies.

(6) Place sugared cookies in aluminum-foil-lined tins. Let cool before you put the lid on if you like them crispy. You could also cool them on a cooling rack before putting them in tins. Sue often sealed them up slightly warm, that’s why her Kleiner was usually so soft.

I keep finding little grammatical errors and fixing them. I'm fairly certain the instructions are correct though!


  1. Yay for Kleiner! Your instructions are informative and entertaining!

  2. Mandy....thanks for sharing. We do a Norweigan cookie each Christmas from our Grandma Evans called 'Jortabackles.' The ingredients are almost the same as what you list here and we deep fry them too. I assume they are very similar in taste. Yummy!

  3. What an effort went into this treat every year! I used to be so glad Beth inherited the shortbread cookies duty for the family party. But since Lille Yule Noct can only go on for so many years (as the generations get further and further away, both geographically and emotionally,) I need to learn how to make Kleiner if I want that trtadition to live on with my progeny. Thank you so much for the post. Missed seeing everyone this year. Maybe next. Merry Christmas!

  4. Jenn - I totally need Beth's shortbread recipe, though Shane says he has his own.

    Riss - We may need to purchase one of these handy gadgets as the cutting would be hecka easier (thought perhaps less charming) with this tool:

  5. Cooking with Amanda-- love it! Way too complex for me, though. I'll stick with candy making.

  6. Amanda: Thanks for this. I wanted to make some kleiner this year, thirty or so years after having spent an afternoon in Denmark making a batch. I am so glad your blog showed up high in the searches. Bestemar was really bestemor, but I suspect that she will always be bestamar to you and I honor her legacy in passing this down through the generations.

  7. Amanda, Thank you for your detailed Recipe of the Klejner Both my parents are from Denmark.
    And we to used to make this all the time around Christmas. Reading your description reminds me of my mother going to all the great detail in making these.
    One thing she use to do to add zip to the cookies is she would take an orange or lemon and a zestier and grate some of the rind and then add it to the dough and then fry them. You might want to give that a try next time you make them. Adds a nice favor to them.
    Take care. J

  8. My mom actually has a Kleiner or Fattimon (as they're known in Sweden) wheel. It makes the cuts for you, including little rivets in the sides and in the slit. I finally got mine too so no more cutting the diamonds one by one!

  9. THANKS.. I can't find my recipe from last year for Swedish fattimon. This one is close enough I can improvise and make them Swedish!! We used to have a little fattimon cutter in which we rolled out the dough and cut serraded edges. We also waited until cooler and shook the cookies in a bag of powdered sugar. The recipe in all it's detail ( which I did not need, but anyone attempting for the first time definatly would!!!) brought back so many memories! Tak samerky!! Lilli Yule!!

  10. Thank you everyone for you fun comments! A Blessed and Happy Lille Yule Noct to all!