Pepparkakor: Making Swedish Holiday Gingersnaps
This month we’re covering classic Swedish Christmas recipes, with a little look into warm and bright Swedish culture during one of the darkest times of the year. God jul! And, if you want a revamped gluten-free and vegan version of pepparkakor, then click here.
Hearts, pigs and horses… nothing is more traditional during the Swedish holiday season than cut out pepparkakor (gingersnaps). They’re a staple of adventskaffe (Advent Coffee), and in Sweden you find them at every social gathering throughout the month of December. More importantly, they’re the best complement to a warm mug of glögg, the flavors in both the cookies and the drink indicative of the season. The cookies are spicy, buttery and crispy, and you can’t have a December without them.
Every Swedish family has a set of the standard pepparkakor cookie cutters, which most often consists of an assortment of pigs, hearts, goats, horses and a man and a woman. It has been said that many of the shapes actually have historic pagan meanings. Get bored with the standard however, and you can always make your own.
Besides going well with glögg, in Swedish culture, pepparkakor are also said to make you nicer, with “ät en pepparkaka till så blir du snäll!” (Eat another gingersnap and you’ll be nice!) commonly said to children. I certainly act nicer when someone gives me an extra pepparkaka.
Now with a little background, let’s get to the baking.
Early in December, you take an afternoon to make the dough and go through the process of flouring the table, rolling out the dough in large squares and cutting the individual cookies. You’re covered in flour, pepparkaksdeg (gingersnap dough) stuck to your fingers, performing the dance of putting unbaked forms on baking pans and taking the done ones out of the oven. It’s a ritual that is as definitive of December as cold weather. The various crispy, spicy hearts and pigs and other shapes are stored in a large cookie tin, waiting to be consumed during afternoon coffee breaks or even snuck by a covert hand in the tin when no one is looking.
If you have even more time at your disposal, the dough is also perfect for constructing a gingerbread house (or an entire block of them, if you so choose).
Even for the most committed of holiday celebrators however, realistically this is how December goes: You begin the month well intentioned – I am going to make a batch of cookies for all of my friends and wrap them up as presents! – but meetings and obligations set in, and in the holiday mess soon you realize you’re well on your way to a holiday sans treats. And you’re ok with that, but you really want your kitchen to smell good for at least one day, and you still need a damn pepparkaka to go with your glögg. You’re not going to give up on every holiday expectation after all.
Not to worry, that’s where the Franska Pepparkakor recipe comes into play.
In this version, the cookies are sliced instead of cut out, which eliminates the flouring and rolling process, but still full of that wonderful spice taste that defines this time ofyear, meaning that you can make a batch of them in the time that it takes to brew your glögg; the working person’s solution to Scandinavian holiday cheer. Enjoy!
Pepparkakor (Gingerbread/Gingersnap Cookies)
(About 75-100 cookies)
1/4 cup (50 ml) heavy cream
2/3 cup (150 ml) light syrup* or molasses
Almost one cup (200 ml) sugar
3 ½ oz (100 gram) butter
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups (700 ml) flour (+ some for the rolling out)
Melt the butter and the syrup on low heat. Let cool before adding the other ingredients. Work the dough well. It’s important that the spices are freshly milled. Let the dough rest overnight in a cool place so the spices have time to fully develop their aromas. The resting will also make it easier to roll out the dough.
Roll out the dough and cut out shapes with gingerbread cutters. Bake in the oven at 375ºF (190ºC) for about 6-8 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily.
This dough can also be used for a gingerbread house. Just roll it out slightly thicker. Have fun!
This recipe is a modification of the original at the Swedish shop Svensk Hemslöjd in Stockholm.
*You can buy light Syrup (ljus sirap) at Ikea. You can also use ”Lyle’s Golden Syrup” that you can find in British food stores.
Franska Pepparkakor (French Gingerbread Cookies)
1 cup (almost 250 ml) almonds, chopped
7 oz (200 g) butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) molasses
4 teaspoons ginger
4 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups (700 ml) flour
Cream butter, sugar and molasses.
Mix dry ingredients with almonds, then combine with butter, sugar and molasses. Knead together with your hands.
Roll dough into cylinders, about 12 inches long and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut dough into 1/4 inch slices. Bake at 380 for 10-12 minutes.
This recipe is adapted from the Swedish classic: “Sju sorters kakor.”
Want more Swedish recipes? Get a copy of my book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break