The name Pepparkakor means ‘pepper cakes’, and originally, Swedish gingerbread biscuits did contain pepper instead of ginger, and potash was used instead of bicarb soda. This was considered to have a calming effect on the digestion – especially after rich Christmas meals – and at one stage pepparkakor were sold at pharmacies as well as grocers. Perhaps because they helped sooth upset tummies, or perhaps because they were considered by some to have a stimulating effect on the libido, historically Pepparkakor were thought to make you a happier and kinder person!
Swedish custom says to place a Pepparkakor in the cupped palm of your hand. Then you make a wish, and using the index finger or thumb of your other hand, tap the cookie in the middle until it breaks. Tradition says that if the pepparkakor breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true (but only if you don’t speak until all the pieces are eaten).
(Makes around 150 biscuits)
100g brown sugar
100g white sugar
100g golden syrup
1.5 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tbsp bicarb soda
1.5 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp ground clove
500g plain flour
TIP: Weigh sugars, syrup & water directly into your saucepan, so you don’t have to transfer the sticky stuff from a bowl. This helps keep measurements accurate as well as being less messy.
To Make Dough:
1. Melt sugar, syrup & water in a large pot over medium heat. Take off stove.
2. Add butter & stir until melted through. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
3. Add spices & bicarb and mix well. Be aware this will froth up considerably.
4. Add flour. Mix well. (Dough hook in food processor can be helpful. It’s a loose dough though.)
5. Gather dough into a ball, pop in a bowl, dust with flour and chill for a couple of hours or overnight.
Keep your dough in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. It gets difficult to work with when it’s too warm, so work in smaller batches. Allow dough to come to room temperature before attempting to roll it out.
1. Heat your oven to 180 C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Cut dough in two and put half back in the fridge/freezer.
3. Lightly flour your working surface, and roll out the dough until it is very thin (2-3mm).
4. Use cookie cutters to cut out your shapes, place them on the tray and pop in the oven.
5. Allow to bake for 7-8 minutes, or until a rich brown colour.
6. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
Store in an airtight tin or jar. Biscuits will keep for a month or more.
Mix 200g icing sugar (not icing mixture) with the white of 1 egg and 2ml (1/4tsp) white vinegar/lemon juice.
Transfer to a piping bag or snap-lock bag with the tiniest corner snipped off, and decorate to your heart’s content!
* Dough will keep for about a month wrapped in the fridge, or up to 12 months in the freezer. Wrap in compostable baking paper which can be used to bake the biscuits.
* Pepparkakor are often baked in rounds or hearts, but around Christmas time, you will see them in the shapes of men and women, pigs (pigs were associated with fertility, and the midwinter festival which called back the sun), and the emblematic Julboken (the Christmas goats who pulled Jul Tomten’s – Santa’s – sled).
* You can punch a hole out of the cut dough shape (using a straw – metal for preference) so it can be hung as a decoration with a bit of ribbon. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can roll your dough slightly thicker, and cut large panels for making a gingerbread house.
* In warmer temperatures (eg in Australian summer) these biscuits are prone to becoming damp, which can see gingerbread houses sag and droop. Store biscuits in airtight tins or jars, and if making a house, perhaps add more flour to create a stiffer dough to begin with.
* You can use this recipe to make ginger nut biscuits too. Just roll small balls of dough (4-5cm across), plonk them well-spaced on a baking sheet, and bake for a bit longer than standard Pepparkakor.
* You can adapt this traditional recipe a number of ways: make the gluten-free by using either GF plain flour or a mixture of other dry agents; make it dairy-free by using coconut oil or vegetable oil spread; try out different sugars in place of the white and brown sugars (eg coconut, rapadura, raw etc).
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