Pepparkakor are to Swedish Christmas what mince pies are to English Christmas. One without the other would be a bit of a sin, really.
Although you can find them in shops all year round, these spicy gingerbread biscuits with their taste of cloves, cinnamon and ginger are undeniably Christmassy and ubiquitous come the first of advent.
Apart from being delicious accompanied by a mug of glögg (Swedish, much stronger mulled wine) or a cup of Earl Grey, they are also rather wonderful as canape bases for your Christmas party. You might think me mad, but topped with some blue cheese, they are an absolutely dreamy combo of salty and sweet and a perfect pairing with a glass of fizz. In my family, they were also always part of Christmas eve breakfast.
This is my recipe, which makes for quite crisp biscuits with a slight citrus tang from the lemon essence and dried bitter orange peel (pomeransskal). I realise these two ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but you could easily substitute for a teaspoon each of grated lemon and orange peel. Or try ordering them online. Cloves can be quite difficult to find ground in the UK and US, but are essential in this recipe. You can always try grinding whole cloves yourself in a pestle and mortar if you can’t source the ground stuff.
This recipe is best when the dough has been left to mature for a few days in the fridge. It also freezes very well. A word of caution for when you do come to bake them, though: Don’t step away from the kitchen. These beauties burn in a millisecond. Watch them like a hawk.
Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingerbread Biscuits)
You will need:
250g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
150ml golden syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract (or 1 tsp lemon peel, grated)
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp bitter orange peel (or 1 tsp orange peel, grated)
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
500 g plain flour
1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl before adding the syrup and lemon extract (or lemon and orange peel, if using).
2. Combine all the dry ingredients (spices, flour and bicarb) in a smaller bowl and beat into to the butter mixture.
3. Knead quickly to form a sticky dough. Separate into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but preferably a few days. You can also freeze the dough until you need it.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for about an hour before using.
5. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.
6. On a floured work surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as you dare. Use cookie-cutters to stencil out they shapes you would like. If the dough becomes to sticky and difficult to use, return to the fridge for a little while.
7. Carefully place onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.