A Candlelit Tradition

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If you celebrate Christmas, when do you get your tree? We wait until the week before Christmas to get ours. It’s important that our tree is fresh and not dry for the holiday, because we celebrate Christmas Danish-style: by lighting live candles on the branches. Live candles are traditional on Nordic Christmas trees. It may sound risky, but when closely managed, it’s quite safe and rewarding for its beauty.

The candles are inserted in special weighted holders perched on the branches, and the flames self-extinguish once the candles melt down to their base. It’s a magical sight, traditionally first done on the eve of Christmas, or julaften, which is celebrated with a big holiday dinner.

We break Danish tradition in our home by lighting our tree candles the weekend before Christmas. This way, we can open our home to friends to enjoy the experience, which has become its own tradition. Naturally, there is plenty of food and libations to go with the event. I load a table with platters of finger food, cheese and charcuterie, and, of course, sweet treats such as these cookies.

The ginger and spice in the cookies go well with glogg (spiced mulled wine), which I make in a large pot swimming with orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves. Once the sun sets and darkness creeps in, we turn down the lights and light the candles. A hush envelops us as we gather around the tree, entranced by the flickering flames casting a soft glow that illuminates the tree and warms the room.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
The ginger and spice in these Ginger Molasses Cookies go well with milk or glogg, spiced mulled wine. (Courtesy of Lynda Balslev for Tastefood)

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus chilling time

Makes about 36 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/3 cup finely diced candied ginger
  • Sanding or demerara sugar for sprinkling

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, salt, and cloves in a bowl to combine.

Cream the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Stir in the candied ginger. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two rimless baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Arrange on baking sheet and gently flatten. Sprinkle with the sugar. Bake the cookies until set and crinkled on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool.

Lynda Balslev


Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her Danish husband, two children, a cat, and a dog. Lynda studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris and worked as a personal chef, culinary instructor, and food writer in Switzerland and Denmark. Copyright 2021 Lynda Balslev. Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication.

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