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Oatmeal raisin, sugar, chocolate chip — stateside supermarkets are filled with dozens of cookie varieties. But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the types of cookies found around the world. (Even if they’re called biscuits instead of cookies elsewhere.) From creamy Argentinian alfajores to peppery Croatian paprenjak, take a look at 11 popular cookies in other countries to expand your horizons on this classic sweet treat.
Anzac Biscuits (Australia & New Zealand)
Sweet and crunchy, Anzac biscuits date back to World War I and are named after the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. However, there are two conflicting stories about their origin. In one account, these oat-y biscuits made with golden syrup were sent by families to their loved ones in the forces because they didn’t spoil and were easy to mail. But according to the New Zealand Army Museum, they were not shipped overseas but were instead sold at home to raise money in support of the soldiers. Either way, these biscuits are now a favorite in both Australia and New Zealand, often sold for veterans’ fundraisers. The Anzac cookie’s name is even protected under law in both countries, requiring a special exception to sell them — as long as you call it a biscuit and never a cookie.
Popular throughout South America but particularly in Argentina, alfajores are derived from a Spanish recipe. Hailing from Andalusia during the Moorish era in the eighth century, the cookie gets its name from the Arabic word for stuffed, al-hasú. While the original Spanish version was a Christmas cookie with cinnamon and almonds, Argentinian alfajores consist of two butter cookies, filled with sweet dulce de leche and then finished with a coating of chocolate or a liberal dusting of powdered sugar. Each South American country has a slightly different variation in terms of filling and coating, but all are delectable.
This shortbread biscuit made with almond flour is found throughout the former Ottoman Empire with various versions of the same name, including qurabiya and ghoriba. Much like alfajores, each region’s version is a little different. In Greece, they are called kourabiedes, and the ingredient list is simple: butter, flour, sugar, and ground almonds. Sometimes vanilla or a local brandy provide extra flavor. The cookies are shaped into balls or crescents and dipped in generous amounts of powdered sugar. Although particularly popular at special occasions, such as Christmas and birthday celebrations, the Greeks know that these are good enough to enjoy year-round.
With a name that means “curved cake,” the Norwegian krumkake is related to the Italian pizzelle. It resembles a waffle cone and is made with a pancake-like mixture of flour, cream, eggs, butter, and sugar. The mix is poured onto a griddle, then wrapped around a wooden rolling pin to shape it. Norwegians typically eat them on Christmas Eve, either on their own or filled with whipped cream. Some families still use traditional stovetop iron griddles, which are decorated with elaborate designs like flowers and coats of arms to imprint on the cookies.
The ma’amoul is a Middle Eastern cookie traditionally eaten during Eid, at the end of Ramadan, or at Easter, depending on one’s religious beliefs. The outer butter cookie shell uses semolina flour, plus rose water and orange essence for flavor. Inside the patterned dome is a tasty filling of spiced dates, figs, and pistachios. The dried fruits and essences mean that there is little need for any additional sugar. The cookies are traditionally worked into different shapes using wooden paddle molds.
Adding vegetables to a cookie might seem counterintuitive, but sweet potatoes have a consistency and sweetness that makes them ideal for baked goods — while also adding a few extra vitamins. The sweet potato is a staple of many diets on the African continent, and the Malawian mbatata highlights it deliciously. The cookie includes a little butter and sugar but relies mainly on the mashed potato for its chewy texture and sweet flavor.
The name of this buttery shortbread biscuit from northern India and Pakistan translates literally to “bread biscuit.” They are thought to have originated in the city of Surat in the 16th century, when a Dutch bakery opened to serve the Dutch spice trading community. When the Dutch left India, the owners of the bakery sold the business; however, the locals were not impressed by the products. The new owner experimented with selling dried bread at a lower price to recoup his losses — they became popular and eventually developed into nankhatai. The true aficionado will insist that ghee be used for a crispy biscuit, but butter can be substituted. Other ingredients include chickpea flour, saffron, and cardamom.
As with any type of cuisine, cookie flavors vary widely according to regional tastes. What is enjoyed by one country’s population may be considered overly sweet in another and lacking in sufficient spice in yet another. Even so, the addition of black pepper to a cookie may seem unusual. However, that’s a key ingredient in the Croatian paprenjak, which combines black pepper, honey, and other spices (often clove and nutmeg). The rectangular cookies date back to the 16th century and were traditionally made in decorative wooden presses. Today, making paprenjak is a common family activity on Christmas Eve.
Those who have tried pfeffernüsse on their travels through Germany are generally quick to make a purchase, keen to crunch through the thin glaze of white icing to taste the richly spiced mixture within. The name translates to “pepper nut,” but the cookie does not contain any nuts — the name likely refers to the pinch of pepper added to the dough and their small size. The dense dough filling is flavored with cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, anise, black pepper, mace, cinnamon, cloves, and molasses. Pfeffernüsse were first concocted in 1753 and quickly became a national favorite — particularly during the holidays.
Residents of the northern Iranian province of Gilan traditionally eat a type of cookie known as reshteh-khoshkar each evening during Ramadan. A special container is used to pour a rice flour dough onto a griddle, forming an intricate latticework. Crushed walnuts, sugar, cardamom, and other fillings are rolled up inside the dough. The little cookie packages are fried until golden. Iranians often enjoy them with rose or lemon syrup as they break their fast.
Viennese Whirls (United Kingdom)
Tea and biscuits are a daily event in the U.K., and there is a multitude of crunchy treats to choose from in the typical kitchen tin. Biscuit choice often revolves around how well it can hold its shape while being dunked in the accompanying cup of tea. One that seems a little more decadent than the usual digestive (and would definitely not be suitable for dunking) is the Viennese whirl. Although inspired by Austrian biscuits (as the name suggests), this is most definitely a British creation. Layers of cream and raspberry jam are sandwiched between two swirls of crisp shortbread. One popular variation includes a longer oblong biscuit, also filled with cream and then dipped into chocolate at one end.