Cookies Desserts

nut-hugging cinnamon bear cookies recipe

just give me a hug ::::


My friend and after-college-roommate Rebecca and I embarked on an adventure across the country and Atlantic waters in December 1994, first visiting my sabbatical rooted family in Oxford, England, then touring for 20 days. Neither of us had been Ireland and we quickly planned our trip on train and ferry to get there. The ferry from Holyhead, Wales to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland doesn’t run anymore. At that time, it was an inexpensive route across the Irish Sea, something two recent college grads could afford. It was a late night ferry, so we tried to settle in for a somewhat restful night. We exchanged a few words with a young drunk man, trying limit any engagement. The most memorable anecdote from him was his exclamation that he knew were didn’t look local because “Holyhead girls don’t wear boots!” Rebecca wore some simple comfortable boots on the trip, now apparently marking us as outsiders.

The drunk man wandered off, finally giving up on our disinterest and we attempted some lucid sleep before disembarking. It was cold. So cold. We spent that morning, before dawn and when any banks or shops were open, walking around Dublin trying to stay warm. We were without Irish money and had to wait for the bank to open for exchange. Many hostels did not except American credit cards. We had no choice but to wander around looking for a place that accepted credit cards or until the banks opened. Many hostels wanted a passport as collateral but we could not leave that behind and go to a bank as the bank also needed proof of identification in a passport to exchange money.

We found a place run by some young, scruffy people, about our age and speaking in Gaelic to each other. We got to our room after that long trip ready to take a nap before the sun came up. The room had no heat. The sheets smelled like they hadn’t been washed in weeks. The window was cracked and could not be shut, letting in a terrible winter draft. All Rebecca and I could do was curl up fully clothed in one bed cuddling together under the blankets and try to sleep.

We awoke after lunch, groggy and still not warm. We opted to forgo showering, the smog of Dublin already permeating our clothes and irritating our eyes, to look for a new place to stay. Just a few doors down, we found a new place called The Glen on Lower Gardner Street. It was a definite improvement with clean sheets, some heat (though not enough to ever fully warm me), good Irish bread, bangers, and eggs in the morning.


We spent almost three days in Ireland, first reveling in the architecture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then taking a cross country train for a day trip to Galway. The train ride was through swaths of deep green, dotted with muddied sheep lazily nibbling on the grass. We visited many art galleries — one of them being the National Gallery of Ireland where Burke’s Connemara Girl painting hangs, still one of my favorites. There was the obligatory trip to the Guinness brewery to sample the creamy brew on tap, and Trinity College to see the magnificent Book of Kells. And I thought this stint was a continued upswing for the rest of the trip.

Until we took the train home. Things got really, really bad.

The ferry left Dun Laoghaire back to Holyhead to take the British Rail to London. Thetrain was crowded, full of Irish, Welsh, and British people making their way to London. As we were traveling from Holyhead to Crewe, England, our transfer point for our London-bound train, I could sense the edginess of some of the passengers. Rebecca and I tried to keep to ourselves but eventually that was difficult to do as events unfolded.

A fight broke out between teenaged Robert and his mother, he calling her “a whore” who had “slept with all the men in Ireland.” He threatened to leave at the next train stop, which brought the cries of his little sister to a head, screaming to stop it. His mother screamed back in defense. The whole train car was silent and trying to ignore it, though wide-eyed and ready to jump into action if punches started flying.

We got off that train as fast as we could. It was December. I did not complain about being cold that time. And Rebecca and I still waited outside on the train platform in the dark, away from the family drama that recently unfolded in front of us. They spent their time in the warmer station, sulking and wordlessly making up. We made sure we did not get on the same train car as they did.

Then we were barraged by the smokers in the non-smoking car. I’ve learned in Europe anything that says non-smoking really does not mean non-smoking. There was one woman who decided to stand up and tell the gruff, fat man to stop smoking and burping/farting or to move. The arguing from the nearby family was similar to what we experienced on the prior part of the trip, threats of physical violence brewing, only that this was an entirely different family. Things come in threes, I thought. This must be the LAST. As we pulled into the station at least an hour later, possibly more, Rebecca and I almost jumped off the train before it stopped. We were so done.

London was a blur as we made our way to the Tube station, on our way back to Oxford. We were so thankful to be with my non-drama family that Christmas. Absolutely drama free.  I was happy to hug my family and Rebecca. We had tea and biscuits and more tea. And a long sit in the sauna to relax. 

These bear cookies might have a similar story. They cling to their almonds like something traumatic occurred, the only way to assuage it. I had Rebecca to cling to during that trip, better than a bag of almonds.


Tips: I started making these cookies with a different teddy bear cookie cutter than shown here, before I’d ever studied the recipe. While chubby and cute, the length of the bear’s arms did not hug the almond well enough. I tried two different dough consistencies (my sugar cookie recipe and the one that was recommended for these cookies initially) and both resulted in nuts slipping from the bears’ arms or arm breakage. Spend the money for the recommended cookie cutter  — see my photo. The long arms looks a bit goofy, but they provide a well-intentioned, tight hug to the nuts. (Not the psychologically-disturbed or angry people on our trip, the REAL nuts.)

The original recipe and bear-nut hugging idea from the lovely Japanese cooking blog by Maa is what I trialed with the shorter-armed bear cookie cutter. The cookie was fine (despite the inability of the bears to hug the nuts more firmly) but the consistency was more crunchy than I liked. I trialed the cinnamon sugar cookie recipe below instead, and prefer it here. Cinnamon is also more huggable and comforting.


UPDATE: Here is where I found my long-armed bear cookie cutter:

One year ago: beach and sea star sugar cookies — What a fun recipe! I still remember how fun it was to make these cookies last year.

Two years ago: lemon beebrush simple syrup

Three years ago: 6:46 minute caramels

Four years ago: white chocolate truffles and fennel and citrus salad with mint (sooooooo pretty!)

Five years ago: baby bûche de noël cookies

nut-hugging cinnamon bear cookies recipe
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: dozens
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 scant cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 2 pounds whole, raw almonds (I did not measure how much since I buy in bulk and use for so many other things.)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. With a stand-up electric mixer, paddle attached, cream the butter, sugar, and cinnamon until fluffy. Mix in the egg. In three parts, add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until combined.
  5. Divide dough into 3 to 4 parts and roll the each portion of dough to ⅜-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment with a rolling pin. There may be crumbly bits: that's okay. Knead dough briefly to incorporate. Place dough in these rolled out "sheets" in freezer briefly on a flat surface to stiffen. This will give the cookies sharper edges.
  6. Cut out the bears with the cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet before adding almonds. If the dough is too stiff, the arms may break when trying to fold them around the nuts. As you work cutting, you can wait to add nuts as cut dough warms. Feel free to be creative: I changed the position of the bears' legs to make some look like they were dancing (maybe running off of a train?), gave some dancey arms and half-hugged almonds, as well as purposely made some bears with missing limbs. Because we aren't all two-armed and two-legged in this world.
  7. Use a toothpick to dot on eye(s) and nose divots.
  8. Bake about 12 minutes, or until ears and paws are golden. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. These are large enough cookies to give a hug to a friend during a casual coffee or tea break, but small enough s/he can't complain about screwing up a diet. Seriously, your flavored yogurt has more sugar than these do.

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