Swedish pepparkakor by candle light

Pepparkakor (gingersnaps) are baked throughout the year, but they are especially popular at Christmas when they are cut into attractive shapes, often decorated with icing (frosting) and sometimes they are hung up as Christmas decorations.

Originally pepparkakor were far spicier than they are today. Indeed, they are called pepparkakor (pepper cookies), not ingefärakakor (ginger cookies), because  they contained lots of pepper. The cookies were said to cure sicknesses, ward off depression and they were also known as sexual stimulants. No wonder they became so popular!

Pepparkakor are now nearly always brown, but in the 19th century pepparkakor were sometimes white. They are always cut into shapes, often part of a rich symbolic language. For instance, pepparkaksgris (pig-shaped pepparkakor), were seen as a symbol of fertility and is a remnant of a pagan midvinterblotet (mid-winter feast). Julpepparkakor (Christmas pepparkakor) are cut into fancier shapes than during the rest of the year.

Pepparkakshjärtan (gingerbread hearts) are especially popular and probably have their origin in the notion that eating pepparkakor would make you gentler and kinder, or at least less grumpy! This maybe because originally potash was used as a leavening agent, instead of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) used today, and the potash helped to alleviate indigestion and stomach discomfort caused by rich Christmas food. This reputation survives in the traditional pepparkakor invitation: "Ät en pepparkaka, så blir du snäll!" (Eat a gingersnap, it will make you nice!).

A large pepparkaka at a julmarknad in Sweden

Every Julmarknad (Christmas market) is festooned with pepparkakor and when combined with the aroma of glögg (Swedish mulled wine) wafting round the church hall, or wherever the market is held, it is guaranteed to make you feel all Christmassy. (The  julmarknad at the Swedish Church in London or at Skansen in Stockholm are both warmly recommended.) John Duxbury


Recipe summary for Swedish gingersnaps


Swedish syrups

• Swedes would normally use either mörk (dark) or ljus (light) syrup, depending on how brown they like their pepparkakor. For this recipe I think the syrups recommended below are good enough, unless you happen to have some Swedish sirap (syrup) in your cupboard.

A tin of pepparkakor (Swedish gingersnaps)

• The biscuits keep well and can be stored for up to 4 weeks in an air-tight container.
• The dough will also keep well for weeks in a fridge.

Cellophane wrapped pepparkakor

• Packed in cellophane bags and tied with ribbon, pepparkakor make excellent fund raisers for charity at Christmas fayres.

A Swedish pepparkakshus (gingerbread house)

• Use half the mixture to make a pepparkakshus (gingerbread house). Click here for details and a template.

Iced (frosted) pepparkakor (gingersnaps)

• If you've got children or grandchildren, set them to work icing (frosting) some of the pepparkakor! (There is a recipe for icing below.)
• For adults, serve pepparkakor with some homemade glögg.


½ tsbsp   cardamom pods*
150 g (1¼ sticks) butter or margarine
250 g (1 cup) sugar (white, brown or a mixture)
50 g (2½ tbsp) golden syrup (light corn syrup)
20 g (1 tbsp) treacle (dark corn syrup)
1 tbsp   ground ginger
1 tbsp   ground cinnamon
½ tbsp   ground cloves
½ tbsp   bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
100 ml (6½ tbsp) water
450 g (3½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour

*Or 1 tsp of ground cardamom


Cardamom pods and seeds

1. Lightly crush the cardamom pods so that the seeds can be emptied out.

Ground cardamom seeds

2. Grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes.

Melted butter, sugar, syrup and treacle

3. Mix the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a large saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts, stirring continuously.

Spices added to the butter, syrup and treacle mixture

4. Turn off the heat, add the spices and mix thoroughly.

5. Add the baking powder and stir again.

Baking powder added to the mixture

6. Add the water and stir once more.

Flour mixed in to mixture

7. Add the flour and stir thoroughly until it is completely mixed in.

Gingersnap dough after hardening

8. Empty the mixture into a bowl. When cool cover with cling film (food wrap) and then leave the dough to rest in the fridge overnight or, if you can, even longer (a week is ideal).

9. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F, gas 6, fan 180°C).

Gingersnap dough during test baking

10. Take a small portion of the dough for a test bake and return the rest to the fridge. The dough will be very firm and hard to roll initially. Knead it to soften it a bit, but it is easier to work when it is cold and fairly stiff.

Gingersnaps being rolled and cut

11. Roll it out thinly on a lightly floured surface or onto greaseproof paper. Cut into shapes using a biscuit (cookie) cutter.

Gingersnaps cut into teddy bear shaps

12. Lift the biscuits on to cold baking trays (cookie sheets), lightly greased if not using greaseproof paper. Bake for 5-8 minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on them as they burn very easily, but they should be crisp.

12. If the test batch spreads out and the biscuits lose their shape, add some more flour and do another test bake.

13. If the test batch is good, remove enough dough for another batch and return the rest to the fridge. Bake in batches until all the dough is cooked.

Ginger snaps cooling on a wire rack

14. Once baked, leave to cool for a minute or two and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Icing (frosting)

Three designs for icing Swedish pepparkakor (gingersnaps)

The quantity below should be sufficient to ice a large batch of pepparkakor.

1   egg white
225 g (1¾ cups) icing sugar (powder sugar)
1 tsp   lemon juice

Whisk the egg white in a large bowl until frothy. Using a large spoon or a mixer on slow speed, add the icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time. Stir in the lemon juice and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks. Cover the surface with a damp cloth if not using immediately.

Spoon the icing into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle and pipe away! Icing is harder than it looks so, unless you are a very experienced icer, I recommend keeping the designs really simple! 


printer copy sb  printer version.pdf

Phone and tablet h32  phone & tablet version.pdf

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