Franklin County Cooks: Leyden man blossoms as artist, cookie creator

  • Cliff is famous for the fried rosettes he prepares for friends, family, and the art group in which he participates. Try making your own using the recipe in today’s column. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CLIFF CARLSON

  • Cliff Carlson learned to make fried rosettes from his mother, Elsie Gustafson Carlson, who was trained in her parents’ bakery. Each December, him and his wife make between six and 10 different types of cookies, including the rosettes. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CLIFF CARLSON


For the Recorder
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Cliff Carlson of Leyden has baking in his blood. His immigrant grandparents ran a Swedish bakery in Connecticut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Every December, Cliff and his wife, Sue, make a variety of cookies that reflect their heritage. Sue’s family was mostly English and German; Cliff’s, Swedish.

“A year ago, Sue gave me an Ancestry.com DNA kit,” he told me. The kit, which relies on averages, estimated that his heritage is between 68 and 88 percent Swedish. He suspects that when he finds out more about his genealogy, he will discover that that percentage is closer to 100.

Both of the Carlsons are retired educators. Cliff served in the Army as a young man and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. He interviewed for a job at Travelers Insurance in Hartford and told the man in charge of hiring that he had thought about going into teaching.

“He said, ‘I have an idea for you,’” Cliff recalled. “‘If you feel strongly about that, why don’t you try it for two years?’ The two years turned into 40.”

In 2001, the freshly retired Carlsons moved into a home they had built in Leyden. They had most recently lived in Deerfield, where Sue worked, and found that they enjoyed Franklin County.

Since their retirement, both have blossomed as artists. Sue is a talented fiber artist who sells her creations at area craft fairs. Cliff has joined a pastel-painting group at Artspace in Greenfield led by Becky Baxter Clark.

“I have always been interested in art, but I never had time to do much of it,” Cliff confessed. “Now is my time.”

The pair have also become involved in town affairs in Leyden. “Small towns need people who are willing to work and help out,” Cliff told me.

In their spare time, the two enjoy cooking. Cliff informed me that Sue is the principal cook in their household. Nevertheless, he has areas of culinary expertise, including cookie preparation.

Each December, the Carlsons make between six and 10 different types of cookies. According to Becky Clark, who introduced me to Cliff, he is famous for the fried rosettes he prepares for friends, family, and the art group in which he participates.

These lace-like delicacies melt in the mouth and taste like sweet fried air. Cliff Carlson learned to make them from his mother, Elsie Gustafson Carlson, who was trained in her parents’ bakery.

The bakery closed after the stock-market crash of 1929, before Cliff was born. Nevertheless, the Carlson family has kept the bakery’s traditions alive by preparing its signature products over the years.

“My mother was the best cook and baker in the family,” Cliff Carlson recalled with affection in his voice.

Although he has his mother’s recipes and the memory of her skills, he purchased the equipment for the rosettes from a Scandinavian store in Connecticut. They require a special iron that shapes the batter into a rose pattern reminiscent of the rose windows in many cathedrals.

Such irons are available at many kitchen stores. (I’m strongly considering purchasing one and trying Cliff’s recipe!)

Cliff admitted that he wishes he had asked for his mother’s kitchen tools. “I regret not having made a point of getting some of those things, what I call common everyday things, like cookie-making equipment. You don’t think you’re going to need those,” he mused.

However, he believes that he honors his mother’s legacy with the equipment he has. “It looks the same as what my mother used,” he said of his rosette iron. Clearly, the flavor of his rosettes echoes his mother’s baking as well.

Carlson’s old-fashioned Swedish rosettes


2 large eggs, slightly beaten

2 teaspoons sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

½ cup cream

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

confectioner’s sugar as needed


Combine the eggs, sugar, salt, milk, cream, and lemon extract. Add the flour a little at a time. Using an electric mixer on low speed, mix this batter thoroughly.

Pour the batter into a bowl just wide enough to accommodate your rosette iron. (Cliff Carlson’s iron is about 6 inches in circumference.)

In a fat fryer or saucepan, heat peanut oil to 370 degrees. Cliff uses a thermometer for this. If you don’t have one, put a small piece of white bread into the fat. It should become golden brown in just a few moments.

Place a rosette iron into the hot fat to warm it up. Remove the iron and let it cool briefly on a paper towel; then dip it quickly into stirred batter so that the batter coats the bottom and sides of the iron but NOT the top.

Hold the iron over the batter for a few seconds to let excess batter run off; then submerge it into the fat. Cook until the rosette turns golden brown (this will take less than a minute). Take care not to let the iron touch the bottom of the pot; this will cause the rosette to burn.

Remove each rosette from the iron with a thin knife and let it drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar right away. Reheat the iron and repeat. Makes about 40 rosettes.

Note: Cliff Carlson reports that the rosettes are best eaten fresh. They are edible for up to a week in cool, dry weather although they do lose a little of their crispiness. He tends to make as much as he needs at a time and refrigerate the batter until he wants to use it again.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” For more information about Tinky, visit her website: www.TinkyCooks.com.