Belgian lukken cookies are day-after-Thanksgiving tradition
FARGO — This week we’re taking inspiration from a local family’s post-Thanksgiving tradition and celebrating the wonderfulness that is the Belgian lukken cookie.
Two years ago, we hosted a Holiday Heritage recipe contest on our blog and asked readers to submit their favorite holiday sweets recipe along with a short story of its heritage, for a chance to win a new KitchenAid stand mixer.
Dozens of entries from around the country were narrowed down to five finalists, whose recipes I prepared for tasting by Tony, Gio and me. We then ranked each recipe by taste, ease of preparation, appearance and its heritage story.
We featured the three finalists’ recipes and stories on our blog for a week so the public could choose their favorite, and the winner was announced in our column on Christmas Day. Twelve-year-old Astrid Axtman of Fargo took home the grand prize, with her Great-Grandma Elsa’s Swedish Spritz recipe.
I have to confess, part of my motivation for sponsoring this contest was to find new and interesting recipes to add to my own holiday baking repertoire. We were delighted with our winner’s story and her excellent recipe, but I had already been making spritz cookies for years with a longtime family recipe.
However, the recipe from our second-place finisher, Suzanne LaPalm of Oakdale, Minn. (daughter of George and Annette LaPalm of Fargo), was completely new to me, and after making her great-grandmother’s Belgian Lukken Cookies for our tasting round, I knew I had found a specialty that I would be making for years to come.
I love everything about this cookie, starting with its presentation: The holidays are a visual feast in many ways, and these cookies are pretty enough to give as gifts throughout the season. Originally they were made with a lukken ijzer, or iron, but they can be difficult to find now so I used a pizzelle press instead. Lukken cookies can be formed in their traditional round shape, or molded into cones or bowls and used to hold other edible treats like candy or even ice cream.
This recipe yields dozens of cookies that will keep for several weeks when stored in a tin, or even longer if frozen. The dough is easy to make and even includes whiskey, which burns out as the cookies get pressed so that folks of all ages may enjoy them. Pressing the cookies takes a bit of time, but it’s an easy task that can go pretty quickly with a good helper and the right Christmas movie or music playing in the background.
Finally, and most important, these cookies are delicious. Lukken are flat, crisp cookies with a rich and mellow flavor, and just the right amount of sweetness. But what really makes these cookies special is their heritage, and Suzanne’s story about her family’s tradition perfectly embraced the essence of the heritage contest. We’re pleased to share it with you today. Let the holiday baking season commence!
Shared over five generations, the Belgian lukken cookie is our sweet holiday tradition. When my great-grandmother emigrated from Belgium, she brought the recipe with her and it’s changed little over the years.
Once made on an ijzer (iron) placed over the fire, we now cook them on pizzelle makers or a modern lukken iron. The recipe we currently use was clipped from a U.S.-based, Belgian newspaper in the 1950s and has been adapted for that new-fangled electric pizzelle “iron.”
Growing up, there was always lukken at grandma’s and great-grandma’s during the holidays, but it wasn’t until after they were both gone that I got in on the making of it. For years now, the tradition is the day after Thanksgiving, we gather at my brother’s big house for what I call the lukken-making extravaganza!
Three generations, from ages 8 to 80, come together to transform the dough into hundreds of perfectly formed balls. You then place the balls on the pizzelle maker, close it up, say one Hail Mary, open it up, and you have perfectly golden lukken. They are then transferred by spatula to the cooling area for stacking and wrapping into packages of one dozen to enjoy ourselves or give as gifts.
Even with some lukken sneakily snarfed up during the extravaganza, with three batches, we usually end up with about 40 dozen.
LaPalm Family Belgian Lukken Cookie recipe
1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound brown sugar
1 pound white sugar
3 ounces whiskey (yee haw!)
Dash of salt
2 pounds flour
Melt butter and cool. Add slightly beaten eggs and beat lightly. Add sugars — first the brown and beat lightly, then add white sugar, whiskey and salt. Sift flour, add and blend well. Store batter in the refrigerator overnight.
Shape into small balls and place, two at a time, on pre-heated lukken ijzer or pizzelle maker. Close and wait approximately 30 seconds. Open, and if cookies are golden, remove to cooling rack. Repeat until all balls have been cooked.
No need to freeze these cookies; just store in a cool, dry place. We make them right after Thanksgiving, and the whiskey helps the flavors to develop more over the next few weeks, when they’ll be at their peak! My mom says that when she was a kid, the adults would enjoy their lukken with a shot of whiskey. Enjoy! Makes 12-14 dozen.