Grandma Hilja’s Spice Cookies


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When I moved out to Montana to be with my husband so he could finish his degree, I put all my dreams on hold. With only a year left, I was beginning to get extremely antsy. To keep myself from going insane from impatience, I decided to master some of my own family’s traditional recipes passed down from generations.

As I flipped through my family’s cookbook, there was a random quote with no author that really spoke to me. It said:


Even with no author, I can guess that this was my great grandmother’s saying as it directly reflects a sisu mentality. As mentioned in my first post, sisu is something everyone should strive for:

“Extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness
in the face of extreme adversity.  And action mindset which
enables individuals to see beyond their present limitations
and into what might be. Taking action against the odds and
reaching beyond observed capacities. An integral element
of Finnish culture and also a universal capacity for which
the potential exists within all individuals.”

My passion for Finland sparked quite early on; my grandpa Elmer moved from Finland when he was a child, but still spoke Finnish with his parents and would teach me to say things like “you’re a crazy girl.” My grandpa was an amazing man, always being absolutely hilarious and I can still smell his old spice and mint gum. When he passed away, I set out for Finland for the first time and spread his ashes in a National Forest near Espoo. While I was there, I felt a kind of peace and ‘at home’ that I have never felt before. Since that day, it ignited a much larger fire in me that already existed.

grandpa and me

I never knew my great grandma Hilja Niinikorpi, but I do know that she never spoke good English and she was a great cook. Never being able to experience her cooking first hand, I have had to re-create some of her recipes myself. The first recipe I ever tried and loved (my husband ate 20 cookies in one sitting) is her spice cookies.

I have come to notice that Finns really do love their fragrant, aromatic spices. Considering smell is such a large part of flavor, I think it’s rather ingenious to have such a trend.

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When preparing a recipe, I always measure out all of my ingredients first. Make sure your butter or shortening is softened. Cream together the butter and the sugar until smooth. Then add the egg, salt, milk, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, vanilla and spices. Technically, my grandma’s recipe only called for cinnamon or nutmeg; the spices I have listed were my own upgrade and flavor punch to this recipe. Beat this until there is a smooth batter. Slowly add the flour; I use only a ½ cup of flour at a time.



The dough should be at a consistency where it feels soft and delicate, but it does not stick to your hands if rolled in your palms. Use a tablespoon amount of dough for each cookie, and roll into a ball. Slightly pat the cookie dough ball down so it has a flat top. Keep cookies 1 inch apart in a nonstick baking pan (I just use a Silpat nonstick baking mat; they are amazing).

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Whisk 1 egg in a separate bowl to use as your egg wash; this will act as a glue to the cinnamon sugar mixture sprinkles on top. Don’t be afraid of putting on too much, any extra will fall off during the bake.

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Once all the cookies have been brushed and coated in the cinnamon sugar, pop in a preheated over at 350°F and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to slightly cool before eating.

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These cookies are phenomenal with coffee and make a really festive Christmas snack. I would love to hear how this recipe has worked for you and if your family loves them as much as mine!

Hilja’s Spice Cookie Recipe

Makes about 36 cookies


  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • ½ teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg (Optional)
  • ¾ teaspoon Ground Clove (Optional)
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • ½ Cup Granulated Sugar
  • ½ Cup Brown Sugar
  • ½ Cup Shortening or Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Egg
  • ¼ Cup of Milk
  • 1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

Glaze & Topping:

  • 1 Egg
  • ½ Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the granulated sugar and the butter.
  3. Blend in the egg, milk, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
  4. Slowly blend in the flour.
  5. Mix until there is a smooth dough that holds its form. (You may add nuts or raisons at this time if desired)
  6. In two separate bowls, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. In the other bowl, prepare the egg-wash (just 1 egg beaten).
  7. Scoop 1 Tablespoon of the dough and roll into a ball, pressing it down to slightly flatten. Lightly brush an egg-wash over the top, sprinkling a thick layer of the sugar over the sticky surface of the ball.
  8. Keep cookies an inch apart on a nonstick baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.
  9. Makes about 36 cookies, Let cool and enjoy!



Hannah C.

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