Today is the first of Advent, which if you’re of Scandinavian background, means that you have the right to stuff yourself with pepparkakor. Best day of the year if you ask me.
Pepparkakor, the classic Swedish gingersnap, have always been a December affair for me. My mother and I would spend one evening preparing the dough, and another rolling them out, choosing from the large aluminum tin that held all of the cookie cutters; cookie cutters which my mother had diligently carried with her from Sweden. The real deal. You can’t do proper julbak (Christmas baking) if you don’t have the right tools after all.
This year I moved – quite far, which meant reducing most of my belongings – and since pepparkakor are a once a year thing, I wasn’t about to buy an entire set of cookie cutters.
But if you are of Swedish descent, you really can’t not have at least one cookie cutter on hand. So even when you try to pair down your belongings and live simply, a cookie cutter makes the list of required kitchen items.
Cookie cutter of choice? A substantially sized heart. While I would have preferred buying the iconic Swedish pig shape, I figured the heart was a bit more versatile. It is. However if someone has a Swedish pig-shaped cookie cutter on hand, you know where to send it.
Back to the pepparkakor.
They’re such a part of the season for me, that I started baking them last week. Craving the coziness of the December, it was the perfect way to push out the gray lull of November. The smell of spices hangs in the kitchen for days, and it’s hard to feel down when you have pepparkakor to go with your afternoon coffee.
I could care less about Christmas shopping, but if it’s December, there certainly have to be a few holiday baked goods on hand. For me the magic of the season comes in the form of food and friends, and baking these is a way to assure you get both: nobody is going to turn these cookies down.
The pepparkakor needed a bit of a revamp however, and with their ample amount of spice, it made them the perfect candidate for buckwheat flour. The other trick? Finely ground almonds. You get just the slightest bit of texture this way, which I think makes for a creative spin on the original version. Obviously being a cuisine of the north, traditional Swedish baking is dependent on butter. Lots of it. But here is where olive oil steps in and works wonders.
In Sweden pepparkakor are such a December staple that they are usually made in very large batches. I mean very large. While I do like cookie tin upon cookie tin of pepparkakor, making 70 or 100 at a time does always feel a bit over the top. So this recipe is paired down a bit. Feel free to double it if you think you need a larger amount on hand.
Pepparkakor – (Revamped) Swedish Gingersnaps
Makes: 20 to 30 cookies depending on size of cookie cutters
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces, 71 grams) raw almonds, finely ground
3/4 cup (3 ounces, 85 grams) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 49 grams) natural cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons water
Rice or buckwheat flour for rolling out cookies
Ina food processor, finely grind the almonds, then add them to a large bowl along with the buckwheat flour, sugar and baking soda. Stir together with a wooden spoon.
In a saucepan slowly warm the molasses and olive oil, stirring with a fork or whisk until you get a smooth consistency. You want to make sure that the molasses and oil blend together. Once blended, add in the spices and stir together. Pour the batter into the flour mixture and add the 2 tablespoons of water. Work together until a dough forms, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Scoop out a large spoonful of the dough and on a lightly floured surface (I use rice flour for this) roll it out to about 1/4-inch thick. While traditional pepparkakor dough is rolled out in really large sections, I find that working with smaller pieces of dough is much easier. I roll enough so that I can cut out 2 to 3 cookies at a time.
Place on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 7 to 10 minutes. Because these are made with molasses and buckwheat flour it can be hard to gauge when they are finished. You will however notice that they get a little darker around the edges. Just make sure they don’t burn!
Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before placing the cookies on a cooling rack.
Store in an airtight container.
Serve alongside a candle and a good vintage Scandinavian textile. Or if all else fails, strong coffee.