Recipe: Latvian Alexander Cake

We celebrate my wife's Latvian heritage with her mom’s famous shortbread cookies known as Alexander Cake.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: John D. Ivanko/

Let the cookie games continue! This holiday season seems particularly cookie-filled, including the take-home treats we picked up at our cookie exchange and Lisa’s annual Peppermint Biscotti bake-a-thon, conveniently clearing out that stash of peppermint candies we acquired over the year. As our cookie recipe collection increases over the years, our favorites come with a story that celebrate traditional cooking styles and cultural roots.

We honor our own family’s history with this recipe for Alexander Cake, a traditional Latvian cookie harkening back to Lisa’s cultural heritage on her mom’s side. While this pastry is called “cake” in Latvian circles, it’s really a shortbread bar cookie. It’s said that this treat was first created for and named after a Russian czar who visited Latvia in the early 1800s. You’ll find this cookie on Baltic tables for holidays, weddings and special occasions, like Christmas.

Lisa’s mom, Aelita Kivirist, entered her recipe into the 2014 Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest and won Honorable Mention, so we now have cookie royalty in our household. Our queen of cookie baking offers these tips for first-time Alexander Cake bakers:

  • Read through the recipe thoroughly before starting. While simple in ingredients and overall process, a key unique element is both flipping one pan of shortbread over the other (with the glaze in the middle) and spreading the sugar glaze while the shortbread base is still hot out of the oven. This causes the glaze, as it cools, to harden into a firm topping that holds the cookie together.
  • When cool, cut into small pieces and serve or place in containers to store. This is a rich cookie. Cut small pieces (approximately three dozen cookies) and one batch goes a long way.
  • Alexander Cake freezes well. When fully cooled, cut the full tray into fourths. Wrap each piece tightly in foil and freeze for up to six months.

Above all, remember to have fun with and create your own holiday culinary traditions.

Recipe: Latvian Alexander Cake



  • 1 pound butter (4 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder


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  • 12-ounce jar seedless raspberry jam
  • 3/4 cup red currant jelly (10-ounce jar)


  • juice from 1/2 a fresh lemon
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp. hot water


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cream together butter and sugar. In separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Gradually add to creamed mixture until incorporated; don’t overmix. Dough will be very stiff.

Remove dough from mixing bowl and form dough into big ball. Cut dough ball in half.

Spread each half evenly onto an ungreased 13-by-18-inch baking sheet, ensuring dough is even so it bakes evenly.

Bake one prepared baking sheet for 15 minutes.

While the first sheet is baking, mix raspberry jam and red currant jelly.

When the first sheet is nicely browned (after approximately 15 minutes), remove from oven and spread the jam/jelly mixture evenly over the hot baked cookie layer.

Bake the second prepared baking sheet for 15 minutes.

When the second sheet is nicely browned, remove from oven and immediately flip over jelly layer, keeping it in baking sheet. Adjust so top layer until is even over first layer, then remove pan.

Mix lemon juice, powdered sugar and hot water together until smooth. Immediately spread over hot cake. Cool in pan for at least six hours. Cut into squares for serving or storing.

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