Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Isak Nygaard and the International City

 My hometown is Warner Robins, Georgia, USA. One way or the other, we all reflect Robins Air Force Base and we call ourselves The International City. So many service people have met their spouses in different countries or faraway states, We have had a lot of fascinating cultures that entered our lives. So many service members decided to stay in Warner Robins when they retired. Some military installations transfered people from Mobile, AL, San Antonio TX, and other Air Force Bases.

We are having my high school class of 1974 Fiftieth reunion this next September. Surprisingly with such a diverse group of classmates; we have reached a consensus on what is most important. One group is wanting to create a visitor's pack for those who come from out of town. 

One item that they want to include are Nygaard's Bakery cookies. My mind went to whether we could bake some because the cookies are quite expensive for that many people. We lived in a military town where people came and went. All of us when we turned 18, thought we were supposed to start moving around the world. So there are going to be a lot of out of towners.

The two cookies are finger nut cookies and the ever famous flower cookie. I did a google search about the cookies. In a long ago article, I remember reading that origin of the flower cookie was an adaptation of a popular jewish cookie in Isak Nygaard's home country of Norway..

In a later article, Isak Nygaard's oldest daughter states the origin of the recipe is lost in time. I suspect like many cooks and bakers, Mr Nygaard tweaked recipes to get what he wanted. My mother had at one time a few recipes of his. Nygaard measured ingredients by weight versus volume. Volume errors can cause errors in large quantities. The other item was a high quality margarine which was Fleishmans.

Isak Nygaard was born in Stavenger, Norway in 1909. He was a member of the Norwegian Armed Forces as a young adult. He moved to New York City with his brother and worked at a Larsen's bakery. In the 1930's Nygaard went to Germany to learn about cooking where he grew uneasy with the direction Germany was taking. He came back to the United States and joined the American Army and was with Patton's unit during World War II. After World War II, he met and married Bernice from Alamo, GA. They moved to Warner Robins. 

From Mr. Nygaard's life experiences, he probably came across so much information about all sorts of things. The Nygaard's had a keen appreciation of education. His four children went to college and have had accomplished careers. I remember the AAUW barrell to collect books in his bakery. Nygaard was a smart man and his cookies were probably a pretty fine tuned creation.

Being a cook, I can guess some of his secrets. He made Danish pastries. The dough is ordinary yeast dough which has had a lot and I mean a lot of butter mixed into the dough. The butter is added after you make the dough and let it rise the first time. Then you kneed the butter into the dough.

The nut cookie is basically the recipe for wedding cookies, Mexican cookies or whatever name you have read for the confectionary sugar coated nut cookie. The trick to this cookie is not to overbake it. People think you have to brown the cookie which entirely ruins this cookie. You cook the cookie until done but not brown. Instead of coating with confectionary sugar, You pipe colorful icing down the cookie.

The flower cookie is a bit of a mystery. I remember reading in an old newspaper article that it was created from a little Jewish cookie. So I googled Norwegian Jewish cookies to try to get a recipe. Jodekager is what popped up repeatedly. Jodekager is a type of icebox cookie. When I found recipes, I noticed they all used weights versus volume to cook them. This is a link to a blog giving the recipe for Jodekager. 

To address the elephant in the room is the name of the cookie which literally translates to Jewish cookie. The Sephardic Jews who settled in Denmark in the early 1600 as they were pushed out Spain introduced these cookies to the Danish people.. The popular cookie was named for the people that made them. 

I googled whether the name was offensive and I found this article in The Times of Israel which states that the Jodekager is something that is a small joy associated with the Jewish people.  Importantly, the Sephardic Jews were treated as equals in Danish society. 

My guesses about the change in recipe is that the cookie is lightly cooked. The recipe is a Spritz cookie with three major changes. Only the egg white is used. The egg yolk would make the cookie yellow. Either a clear imitation vanilla flavor, or almond flavor, or lemon flavor is added. Butter and margarine is not used, a vegetable shortening is used to keep the cookie white. (This supports the Sephardic version in that the cookie originally had olive oil as the fat.) The flowers have a smudge of colorful icing with a green icing leaf. 

Without a little flavoring, I suspect the cookie is not too good without some sort of flavoring agent. To prevent breakage, they need to be cooked on parchment paper. I think about all those cooks in the 1600's cooking up a storm with no parchment paper. .

Fortunately, I have come to my senses. There is no way I am going to cook a mess of cookies. I would regret the weight gain from sampling my progress, I want to enjoy the reunion and not work myself to death. Plus, the recipe was sold to the current owner. I'll just be satisfied I can make an egg mcmuffin every bit as good as McDonalds.

Southern Living's IceBox Cookie Recipe

Betty Crocker Spritz Cookie Recipe


  1. I enjoy pastries or cookies that have yeast in them. They are so flakey and I like foods with texture.
    Class reunions: I haven't been to mine since 1982 - my ten year. I hated it and haven't been back since. High school just wasn't my thing.

    1. I only like a few baked goods with donuts being one of my favorites.
      I am surprised with myself getting involved with all this reunion stuff. My inclination is to "bug out" and not get involved. But on another level, I feel like there is some spiritual growth I will get. Flaky I know.
      I cannot blame you for not wanting to go. Life happens and that was so far away. Plus there are somethings and some people I have no interest in meeting again. lol


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