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Lost Italian: Stop and smell the Norwegian Rosettes this holiday baking season

Serve Norwegian Rosettes coated with decorative sugar or a dusting of powdered sugar. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO -- The holiday baking season is in full swing, and my repertoire is filled with favorites from Christmases past as well as recipes that honor my family’s heritage.

As I bake these specialties, my mind floods with memories of family and friends, especially those who have departed this earthly realm. I love this opportunity to revisit these dear ones, and my Norwegian Rosettes this week are a tribute both to my grandfather, Don Mathison, and a beloved family friend, Lin Smithwick.

Tony and I first met Lin shortly after we opened our restaurant, Sarello’s, 18 years ago this week. Lin was a passionate foodie and cook as well as a terrific writer, and our connection was instant. Lin was one of those friends who just chose you to be in her life, and once you were, she never let go. Our lives are all the richer for having known and loved her.

Lin’s heritage was also Norwegian, and each year at Christmas, she would bring us a large platter of beautifully made rosettes. We looked forward to each visit with great anticipation, as did my large extended family who happily helped us devour her confections. Lin’s rosettes were not only a signature of her heritage, but also a symbol of her love and friendship.

Each year I add a new specialty to my holiday baking, and this year I finally felt brave enough to make rosettes. These Scandinavian cookies are deep-fried and delicate, a combination that isn’t always for the faint of heart. But I’ve found Lin on my mind so much this month it’s almost as if she has been luring me to carry on this holiday tradition (she could be very persuasive when needed).

I regret that I never asked Lin for her recipe — her passing was sudden and far too early, and I relied upon the false belief that we had a long time left for sharing. So, I spent last week testing various recipes to find the one most like Lin’s, whose rosettes were always perfectly shaped and ridiculously delicate. After several batches, I finally settled on the one that most reminded us of her cookies.

While many recipes call for two eggs, I found that using just one resulted in a crispier cookie and more defined shape. I don’t have a deep fryer, so I used my Dutch oven and a candy thermometer to ensure the oil maintained a steady 375 degrees.

A special iron is required to make rosettes, and in our Scandinavian region, there are no shortage of places to find them. Lin had all kinds of fancy molds for her rosettes, but the standard irons come in simpler forms (flowers, stars, circles).

Making rosettes is a process, and working quickly is essential to success. My first several rosettes were not pretty, but as I practiced, my results steadily improved. For recipes of this nature, I find it helpful to make the specialty at least two to three times in a short period of time to master the technique.

I am new to the world of making rosettes, and I’m sure there are many of you reading this who are far more skilled than I. I can hear my dear friend Lin begging me to ask you for your secrets, and in the spirit of our friendship, I hope you’ll share them with me.

Happy baking, and God Jul!

Norwegian Rosettes

Makes: 3 to 4 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup flour, sifted

1 egg, lightly beaten

Pinch of salt

1 cup whole or 2 percent milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 to 6 cups canola oil

Directions:

Place a wire rack on work surface and cover with paper towels.

Use a stand mixer with wire whisk attachment (or mix by hand with a whisk) to combine all ingredients until the mixture is smooth, creamy and free of any lumps. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes for crispiest results. Transfer batter to a shallow pan, like a pie plate or cake pan.

In a deep fryer or large, heavy pan (I use a Dutch oven), heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees. Use a candy or deep-frying thermometer to ensure accuracy and continue to adjust heat as needed throughout the process.

Dip the rosette iron into the hot oil, completely submerging it, and hold it there for about 30 seconds to “season” the iron. Remove and shake off any excess oil, then blot lightly on a paper towel.

Dip the heated iron into the batter to about ¾ up the sides of the mold, being careful not to fully submerge it. Dip the batter-covered iron into the hot oil so that the mold is completely submerged.

Fry the rosette(s) for about 30 seconds until they voluntarily pop off the mold or use a knife or other tool to gently loosen it free.

Fry until lightly browned on 1 side, then use tongs, a long stick (like a skewer or chopstick) or a fork to carefully flip and brown the other side, about 1 to 2 minutes total. Repeat process with remaining batter. Check the thermometer often and adjust the heat level as needed to maintain 375 degrees.

Remove browned rosettes from oil and transfer to the paper towel rack to drain. Place the rosettes with the hollow side down to allow the oil to drain off.

If coating in decorative (granular) sugar, dip the rosettes while still warm for best adherence. If dusting with powdered sugar, wait until rosettes have completely cooled and sprinkle just before serving.

Store rosettes in a cookie tin or airtight container for several days. To freeze, place rosettes in a single layer on a baking sheet and flash freeze for 1 hour. Stack in an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months. Before serving frozen rosettes, place cookies on a baking sheet and warm in a 300-degree oven for 5 minutes, or microwave on high for 10 seconds.

Sarah’s Tips
  • Just like a pancake, the first batch or two may not yield the best results, but you will get a feel for the process as you go along, so don’t get discouraged.
  • Be efficient as you work to ensure best results — after one batch has separated from the iron into the oil, redip the iron into the batter and quickly submerge into the oil, keeping an eye on the rosettes already frying.
  • For a seasonal flair, dip the tops of warm rosettes into colored sugar until lightly coated.
  • For a richer pastry, add an extra egg to the batter.
  • For lighter, even more delicate rosettes, use cake flour and sift three times before adding to the batter.
  • Add a ½ teaspoon of almond or lemon extract for additional flavor.
  • For spice rosettes, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or nutmeg to the batter.
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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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