National symbols are legion, ranging from flags and coats of arms to flowers and animals. But as far as I know, Finland is the only country to boast a national shape.
Although it doesn’t have official standing, this shape has become an icon of Finnish design and pops up all over the place. Husband-and-wife team Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio, who designed the original glass vase, say it was inspired by the traditional costume of Sami women. Its curvaceous contours are also reminiscent of Finland’s countless lakes.
I even found a cookie cutter of the same shape in a Helsinki department store a few years ago – the obvious choice for this recipe with its distinctive Finnish flavours.
The most typical of these is fennel, which also seems to cut through the sweetness of the cookies to add a deeper, more complex taste. You could also use other spices, such as cardamom or allspice.
As a final nod to the Nordic countries, I used as a raising agent the ammonium bicarbonate that Virginie was kind enough to give me at Paris Vegan Day. The cookies rose impressively and the slight smell of ammonia from the oven while they were baking was barely noticeable.
For about 20 cookies
100g cane sugar
1 tbs cider vinegar
1 tbs molasses or agave syrup
70g almond or cashew paste
4 tbs groundnut or sesame oil
2 tbs plant milk
120g unbleached white flour
70g ground almonds
A pinch of salt
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ammonium or sodium bicarbonate
Mix the sugar, vinegar, molasses or syrup, nut paste, oil and milk together in a bowl. A stick blender makes the job easier, especially if you want to scale up the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas 4). Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Mix together the rest of the ingredients in another bowl, then add to the liquid ingredients. Knead just enough to form a soft, smooth dough. Roll it out (no flour is needed) and cut out shapes with your favourite (or most seasonal) cookie cutter.
Bake the cookies for about ten minutes.