christmas baking 2 – swedish gingerbread

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swedish gingerbread cookies, or pepparkakor, are the best. they’re extra-thin, crisp and spicy. you can buy them in big tins this time of year but they’re very easy to make and it’s more fun to cut out your own shapes. although in my case i “cleverly” stored my cookie cutters in some “smart” location and can no longer find them. so it’s round cookies for me this year.

i did, however, make a small gingerbread house! my last gingerbread house was uh… rather large and took several days and two batches of dough to make (each batch makes 300 regular cookies…) so yep. this year i decided to go the minimalist route.

my original plan was to have long eaves that went way down on either side like a little forest cottage, but the unthinkable happened and i actually ran out of dough! don’t let this happen to you – make your house first, before you roll out the rest of the dough for a batch of cookies. or, i don’t know, maybe you’d rather have more cookies to eat right away rather than a month later when they’re a bit dusty and covered in rock hard icing, what do i know. you do you.

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anyway, making a gingerbread house is pretty straightforward. i cut a very simple pattern out of paper – two sides, front and back and the roof – and glued the house together with royal icing (1 egg white, 400 ml icing sugar and a tsp of vinegar). the last two houses i’ve made used melted sugar glue to join the pieces but this time i branched out into icing because a) i happened to have a ton of icing sugar and b) that sugar syrup gives a great result, it’s nearly invisible and it hardens up rock solid but damn it’s scary to work with. have you ever burned yourself with sugar syrup? it’s like boiling hot glue that sticks to your skin and continues to burn you as you desperately try to wash it off. so i went the safe route this year.

my best trick for gingerbread houses is making candy windows. just crush a few hard candies (i use my mortal and pestle because that’s obviously what it’s intended for, right?) and use a little spoon to pile up the candy powder in the windows before baking. really pile it in – if there are any gaps when you take the cookie out of the oven you can spoon on a little more powder and it will melt. i like to use cough drops for their nice golden colour, and because they’re easiest to find here. the swedes seem totally unaware of the wonders of boiled sweets. i have also heard that you can make candy windows by simply placing a whole sweet in the middle of the window, but i’m not sure if that’s a figure of speech. at any rate i like to crush the candy very fine as cookies made from this swedish recipe don’t want very long in the oven at all, and i want to make sure the windows have a chance to melt.

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have i convinced you to make a gingerbread house of your own? no? what if i told you that we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet? namely that it will make your living room, kitchen or wherever you keep it, smelling tantalizingly gingery, cinnamon-y and christmas-y all day long? still no? nevermind, you can make regular swedish gingerbread cookies instead.

this recipe makes lots. the trick is to roll them very thin (although at the point where i get tired of re-rolling and cutting the scraps i like to make one last cooky that’s a bit thicker and eat it warm and soft from the oven).

the swedish way to eat gingerbread cookies is with blue cheese and mulled wine – or if you get tired of blue cheese, with brie. (i know it sounds totally weird to eat cheese on a cooky if you, like me, come from a world where cookies are cookies and crackers are crackers and never the twain shall meet. but just trust me, it’s very good).  another very swedish thing to do, and the very best breakfast or snack or light supper i know of, is to crumble gingerbread cookies in a bowl of filmjölk, that is to say swedish sour milk, somewhere between yoghurt, kefir and buttermilk. runny yoghurt is a good substitute.


 

swedish gingerbread cookies – adapted from vår julkokbok

this recipe makes 300 cookies. i know, i know. that sounds completely unreasonable. but you roll them very, very thinly, so it’s not really that much dough. besides, you store the dough in the refrigerator and make a few at a time. it’s better to make one big batch at the beginning of december; if you wrap the dough tightly you’ll be able to keep rolling out these pepparkakor until christmas day- and trust me, you’ll want to. if it still seems like too much, make a half batch. i’ll confess that i did, and it was enough for about 30 cookies and a small house, but i do wish i’d made a whole recipe.

ingredients:

1 1/4 cup (300 g) softened butter
2 cups (500ml) sugar
1/3 cup (100 ml) golden syrup
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 tsp whole or ground cardamom
1 tbsp baking soda
3/4 cup (200 ml) water
7 cups (1 1/2 l) flour

oven 400f

to do:

cream together the butter, sugar and syrup. stir in the spices (crush the cardamom in a mortal and pestle if you’re using whole cardamom), the baking soda, and the water. lastly, blend in most of the flour. all this stirring takes a lot of elbow grease, this is a good time to have a helper in the kitchen.
work in the rest of the flour on your counter or baking board. cover the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least twenty-four hours. this part is important! don’t get impatient, okay? your dough needs to rest.
when you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400f and break off a small-ish amount of dough. it will be very firm and a bit difficult to work with at first. knead it on your floured counter or baking board until it softens and becomes darker and more pliable. roll it out as thin as you can – but not so thin that you can see the countertop through the dough. aim for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1/16th of an inch. place on cold oven sheets and bake for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. keep an eye on these! they’re done quickly and burned pepparkakor don’t taste very nice (ask me how i know this). they’ll puff up slightly in the oven and sink back down as they cool. will keep for at least a couple of weeks in an air-tight tin.

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