Food & Drink

New Year’s Cakes: A Family History and a Recipe Adapted for Today

Here is the recipe:

Finkwarder Neejohrkoken
Adapted from my grandmother and her mother-in-law on the island of Finkenwerder, and converted from metric weight to volume by me, so I am the one to blame for any glitches.

Time: About 15 minutes for preparation of the dough and 1 ½ hours for the actual baking time, during which you can read the paper, do the ironing, talk on the phone, answer your e-mail, prepare dinner — just don’t stray too far from the waffle iron.

3 ¼ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup potato starch (corn starch will work fine)
1 ½ cups sugar
Generous pinch of salt (I use about half a teaspoon)
At least two table spoons of dried anise seeds or fennel seeds, more if you like (I do)
2 eggs, whisked together in a separate small bowl
10 to12 tablespoons butter ( 2 ¼ to 2 ½ sticks), melted and cooled

In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients, including the sugar. Form a ring of the mixture, making a hole in the middle.

Pour in the eggs; stir everything together. Pour the butter over the mixture and quickly kneed the dough, using your hands. The dough should feel firm to the touch, even a bit crumbly, but not too dry. If necessary, add a bit more melted butter.

Preheat your waffle iron to medium heat (on a scale of six, I set mine to four). It doesn’t matter whether yours’ makes heart-shaped or square waffles.

Form round patties out of the dough, the size of your palm or smaller. You don’t want the cookies to be the size of actual waffles; each one would make a meal. Instead, go for small triangles. I like mine really tiny, almost bite size. Squeeze the handles of the iron a couple of times while baking a patty.

Bake until nicely browned, about four to five minutes. Don’t take them out too early or they will crumble.

Neejohrskoken are much heavier than waffles. I use a fork to gently lift them off the iron when they are done and slide a wooden spatula underneath. Rest them on a cookie sheet and, when they have cooled of a bit, use a sharp knife to cut the individual cookies apart. They will be quite crisp once completely cooled.

This recipe makes about 100 neejohrskoken. If you want fewer, it’s easy to halve — or just share a portion of dough with your neighbor as my mom use to do with her mother, who lived downstairs from us.

Hint: If you happen to have (or know someone who has) an iron to make thin wafers, by all means, use that. The result will be incredible. Make the dough patties much smaller and prepare to spend a long evening in the kitchen baking one after the other.

You also won’t be able to do much on the side, since you will have to press down on the handles of the iron throughout the process. Turn in to your favorite radio station or preload the CD-player with an opera or book on tape. Or make the baking process a story-telling session for the family around the kitchen table.

Place the neejohrskoken into small tins or cellophane bags, adorned with pretty ribbons, and hand them out to your friends, neighbors and loved ones toward the end of December. Happy New Year!



Agnes Krup is a writer; her first novel With the Outgoing Tide, was published in German this fall. After having worked in the book publishing industry for decades and having raised a daughter in New York City, she now divides her time between Northern Germany and the Hudson Valley.

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  • Carolyn Hahn January 4, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    What an evocative essay, Agnes. My family did not go through nearly the difficulties your father did, but the essay struck home because I have just gotten done with a week of baking about twelve batches of cookies — one after the other — to give away (my husband actually begged me not to make any, and last year, I didn’t — but this year, I HAD TO).
    I gave them away to my neighbor, Gloria, to the people at my nearby Salvation Army and Holy Name thrift shops, to the staff at Oppenheimer butchers…to the cashiers at Gristedes, to my husband’s co-workers. At some point I did think Why Am I Doing This? But it reminds me of how my mother would make yeasty Christmas bread in the shape of wreaths and snowflakes for all the neighbors, for how my grandmother would send rum balls and peanut brittle from Albuquerque … it’s as if the spirit of my grandmother and mother were being channeled through my hands to my New York “family.”
    And funny how the Gristedes cashiers — like me — remembered they’d all left out cookies and milk for Santa (in my case, getting a note back from Santa — but in my mother’s handwriting — go figure!).

  • Wendy Brown LaHood December 31, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing a heartfelt example of how strongly traditions connect us to family members today and in our history. For those of us with few or no traditions, it is encouragement to begin our own. Best wishes for a joyful, healthy and peaceful New Year.