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!).
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
• 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.
• 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.
• Packed in cellophane bags and tied with ribbon, pepparkakor make excellent fund raisers for charity at Christmas fayres.
• 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
1. Lightly crush the cardamom pods so that the seeds can be emptied out.
2. Grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes.
3. Mix the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a large saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts, stirring continuously.
4. Turn off the heat, add the spices and mix thoroughly.
5. Add the baking powder and stir again.
6. Add the water and stir once more.
7. Add the flour and stir thoroughly until it is completely mixed in.
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).
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.
11. Roll it out thinly on a lightly floured surface or onto greaseproof paper. Cut into shapes using a biscuit (cookie) cutter.
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.
14. Once baked, leave to cool for a minute or two and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
The quantity below should be sufficient to ice a large batch of pepparkakor.
|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!
SwedishFood.com is run by a not-for-profit company set up to help English speakers around the world who would like to learn more about Swedish food. If you like the site please help us to promote it and bring Swedish food to a bigger audience by following us on:
Editor and Founder