The Can’t-Fail Cookie Recipe, From One of the World’s Best Chefs
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The doors to Fäviken, the legendary and remote restaurant in Jämtland, Sweden, closed permanently on Dec. 14, 2019. The end had been announced months ahead by chef Magnus Nilsson, who wanted to focus on other projects. Still the news was a crashing disappointment for culinary tourists in search of the meal of a lifetime. The 24-seat Fäviken revolved around ingredients from the surrounding wilderness, with dishes like his signature scallops cooked over burning juniper branches—it was also one of the toughest reservations in the world to score.
For anyone who never made it there, and everyone who did, Nilsson recently produced one of the most singular chefs’ cookbooks to come out in a while. Fäviken: 4015 Days, Beginning to End (Phaidon, $60) chronicles the life of the restaurant through recipes, images, and long, conversational observations about the culinary subjects that have dominated conversations over the last decade at the highest of profile restaurants. Ever wondered about what chefs think about culinary plagiarism and the DNA of a dish? Nilsson has.
It’s easy to write a bad restaurant cookbook. But a great one is satisfying in a way that complements and might even exceed visiting that dining spot, with stories of the place echoing around recipes that might captivate you.
As per the title, the book takes readers through the 4,000-plus days that Nilsson commandeered his remote restaurant, which required hours of travel from Stockholm, via plane and then car over small backroads.
Not many of the 100-plus recipes in his book will be accessible to home cooks that keep a standard pantry, for instance wild trout roe served in a warm crust of dried pig’s blood. Or pig’s head dipped in sourdough and then deep fried (despite the dramatic image evoked by the title, these are small snacks, served on twig skewers).
Nilsson’s tome is more like a compelling podcast with recipes thrown in. He speaks to subjects like Why Fäviken Had to Close, Really—it’s worth buying the book just to read the compelling chronicle of a very intense case of burn out. There’s a treatise on the hypocrisy of sustainability in restaurants. An index of standout dishes listed by date in chronological order make compelling history of Fäviken all by itself.
One recipe stands out in the mix for its stark simplicity: shortbread cookies with jam. They represent something powerful for Nilsson, who is now academy director at the forward thinking hospitality-focused MAD Academy in Copenhagen, as well as the owner of a 44-acre apple farm.
“These cookies were the dish we served the longest at Fäviken,” says Nilsson via a video call. The recipe came from the grandmother of his first employee, Douglas Tjärnhammar-Alm. They were a featured part of one of the world’s great breakfasts: a packed table of warm, dark-crusted rye bread; fresh butter, cheeses, and hot-smoked breakfast charcuterie; soft boiled, very fresh eggs; and dense bowls of grain and seed porridge with salty butter. The cookies, topped with bright jam, made with fruits on hand like cloudberry, animated the meal with a dessert-for-breakfast playfulness.
“It is a true Swedish recipe: the grain we used was milled locally, the jam is made with local fruit. They were integral to the experience of Fäviken,” says Nilsson. “Also the cookies are delicious.”
The shortbread is a standard mix of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, shaped into little balls, then pressed down with a thumbprint center to be filled whatever jam you like best (Nilsson prefers raspberry). Though there’s nothing revolutionary about them, the crumbly buttery cookie that melts in your mouth with a flash of fruity jam is delightful, especially when you eat them warm. Nilsson recommends savoring as soon as they’re reasonably cool enough.
He adds: “The cookies say a lot about Fäviken. Looking back, it was a courageous thing to do for an ambitious, contemporary chef, to serve cookies like that. They weren’t deconstructed. They were a grandmother’s recipe. And they never fail.”
The following recipe is adapted from Fäviken: 4015 Days, Beginning to End, by Magnus Nilsson.
Tester’s note: The original recipe doesn’t include salt, although I thought it highlights the buttery cookies even more.
Douglas Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies
3 ¾ cups flour (500 gm)
1 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar (220 gm)
1 tbsp. baking powder
Large pinch of salt (optional)
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter (10 oz. or 300 gm), at room temperature
2 large fresh eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Your favorite jam, preferably home made
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line 2 or 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, if using, with the butter. Knead with your hands or beat at low speed with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and mix just until combined.
Shape dough into small balls, around 1 inch wide, and arrange on prepared baking sheets; if necessary, you can bake the cookies in batches.. Flatten the balls slightly, then make an indentation in each one with your finger. Fill the indentation with jam and bake for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Eat them when they’re warm.
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