pepparkakor

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Somehow, in my years of baking – before, during, and after living in Scandinavia – I had never before made the classic Scandinavian Christmas cookie: pepparkakor, as they’re known in Swedish (spelled pepperkaker in Norwegian), which are thin, crisp ginger snaps. When my friend Liv invited me to take part in a Christmas cookie exchange, I saw the perfect opportunity to remedy that situation.

I mentioned in my last post here, months ago, that we were getting ready to leave Norway. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t realize how settled you feel in a place until you leave it; in September we moved to Montréal, Canada, and after several months here we are just now starting to feel at home in our new apartment. It’s been a slow transition, but I’m finally enjoying making food in our kitchen (hurra!), and I definitely enjoyed baking this classic Christmas cookie. Thanks to the array of spices in this dough, it is incredibly fragrant (it genuinely smells like gløgg, or mulled wine), and cutting out shapes with cookie cutters evokes a childlike glee within me, so how could I not?

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I’m so happy that Liv introduced me to the idea of a cookie exchange, too. Here’s the basic concept: gather a small-to-medium sized group of people (say, 4-8 people). Each person picks a cookie recipe to bake, and then you bake a dozen cookies for each person in the group. After the cookies are baked, you meet up for a little holiday gathering, and you swap cookies with each person in the group, so that you dole out a dozen of your own cookies to each person (keeping a dozen for yourself), and you receive a dozen cookies of different types from each person in the group. With our group of eight, we each went home with a selection of eight different kinds of cookies, but we each only had to bake one kind. You then have plenty of cookies on hand for holiday parties, gifting, or simply snacking on over the break. Is that not the most genius thing ever?

So, as I mentioned, I decided to bake pepparkakor. I looked around at several different recipes – classic as they are, there can be quite a lot of variation in recipes for these cookies. While ginger and cinnamon are basically always included, you may or may not see cardamom, grated orange peel, and even pepper (hence the name!). In fact, during my time in Norway I realized that whether or not pepperkaker should include actual black pepper is somewhat of a perpetually ongoing debate. There are also differences in whether recipes use molasses, golden syrup, or something else. In the end I decided to use the recipe from Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. I knew I wanted to use the Dala horse cookie cutters my in-laws gave me a few Christmases ago, so going with a Swedish recipe felt appropriate.

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This recipe includes ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground cloves, and ground ginger. I took the time to grind the cardamom, cloves, and ginger fresh, and I think that truly makes all the difference in the world. These would have been lovely if I’d used pre-ground spices, but they’re truly delightful with the fresh ground spices instead. It also does include a wee bit of black pepper, and I suppose I ground that fresh as well!

I decorated a few of the cookies – two per person for the cookie exchange – but pepparkakor are delicious with no frills at all so I left the majority like that. I did have fun icing the few cookies I decorated, though. The stark white icing against the rich brown of the cookies is pretty, isn’t it?

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If you’re interested in making some pepparkakor of your own, Fika is one of my favorite Scandinavian recipe books and I’d definitely recommend it! Or you could give my friend Daytona’s Norwegian recipe a try instead, as it’s available for free on her blog, Outside Oslo.

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syltgrottor

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It’s been a little quiet on this blog but this time, it’s not because I haven’t been baking! It just turns out that a lot of things fall by the wayside when you’re also writing a master’s thesis. So I’m working to catch up on a few things!

One Saturday in February, my friend Anna came over for some tea and knitting in the afternoon. We’d both been feeling the winter blues a little bit, but these thumbprint cookies from Fika, called syltgrottor in Swedish (or “jam caves”), definitely helped raise our spirits.

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Fruit and jam types of cookies were never my favorite growing up – I wanted rich chocolate in my cookies basically all the time – but as an adult I’ve really come around to them. This recipe calls for Queen’s jam, which there’s a recipe for in Fika – it’s a jam with equal parts raspberry and blueberry. I didn’t have any of that, however, so I just used plain old raspberry jam. It was still absolutely delicious, but with the subtle anise flavor of these cookies, I can see how the flavors of the Queen’s jam would be a winning match!

These cookies are meant to be baked in small paper liners, but I spaced out and forgot to pick up any at the store when I bought ingredients, so we just baked them right on a baking sheet with parchment paper, which worked absolutely fine. I’d love to give them another go with paper liners, however.

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Fika continues to be one of my favorite baking books, one that I reach for most often now. And I can definitely see myself making these again. Do you have a favorite type of thumbprint cookie?

You can find the recipe for these cookies in Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

And a quick P.S. for anyone who enjoys Scandinavian design as much as I do! The authors of Fika are both talented artists, and Anna has just started the 100 day project on her Instagram with the goal to make one papercut piece every day for 100 days inspired by classic Scandinavian design (be still my heart!). You can check out the first post here (she kicks off with Stig Lindberg’s Berså), and be sure to follow Anna if you want to watch the project unfold.

homemade: almond cardamom scones

 

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This past fall, Beatrice Ojakangas published her new memoir, Homemade. Unsurprisingly, it falls into the combined memoir/cookbook genre – one I have enjoyed in the past, though upon reflection I haven’t actually read too many of them (when you find your favorites it can be hard to move past them, you know?). Nonetheless, I was really looking forward to this one when I first heard about it. For those who don’t know, Ojakangas has published an astoshingly diverse array of cookbooks throughout her life, including the one that led me to start this blog: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

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While Homemade is a slim volume, it’s chock full of recipes and stories. It’s written in Ojakangas’s trademark straightforward style, which befits her own life story of growing up on a farm in northern Minnesota. If when you hear “food memoir” you’re expecting something in line with Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life, keep an open mind with this book, which is nothing like that. The book is divided into two halves, which more or less correspond with Ojakangas’s childhood and youth, up through her college years (part 1) and her life after marriage (part 2). The “chapters” are small (many are only 2-3 pages), especially in the first half of the book. While I appreciated the glimpse of a childhood and an upbringing so completely unlike my own provided by part 1, I have to admit I enjoyed part 2 the most – this is the half of the book containing Beatrice’s stories of writing for Sunset Magazine, writing her cookbooks, spending a year in Finland, and meeting and working with both Julia Child and Martha Stewart. She truly has led a fascinating life.

Peppered throughout these anecdote-like chapters are, of course, recipes. They are definitely not purely Nordic, but again, the diversity of recipes is a strength. I flagged a few as I read that I wanted to try out, and the publisher has very kindly agreed to let me share my favorite here: almond cardamom scones. These are easy-peasy drop scones, and the secret to really getting these right is using freshly ground cardamom. Grinding the cardamom seeds is the most labor intensive part, but the fragrance and the aroma just can’t be matched by the pre-ground stuff. You’ll find the recipe below.

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Almond Cardamom Scones

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, to sprinkle over the top of the scones

Preheat the oven to 400ºF (205ºC). Lightly grease a large cookie sheet or cover with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, cardamom, sugar, and almonds in a large bowl.

Grate the frozen butter onto the flour mixture.

Mix the eggs and 1/2 cup of the yogurt in a small bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and blend quickly, just until a dough forms. (Add a bit more yogurt or buttermilk if needed.)

Using an ice cream scoop, place in mounds of dough on the cookie sheet, about 3 inches apart. Sprinkle tops with the sugar.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes until light brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Recipe excerpted with kind permission from HomemadeFinnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food by Beatrice Ojakangas.

havrekjeks

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Oats are easy to find in Norway. Havregryn (or rolled oats) comes in small and large varieties, havregrøt (oatmeal) is a common breakfast – the kind I like has cardamom to boot! Havremelk (oat milk) is a common non-dairy substitute, and my grocery store even carries an oat-based non-dairy creme fraiche. And then there’s havreflarn and havrekjeks, different types of cookies made from oats. Since making the havreflarn med choklad from Fika, I’ve been experimenting with oat cookie recipes, and now I’ve had one published in the Norwegian American Weekly.

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My havrekjeks are thin and chewy, with chocolate chips. I never was a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, but oats and chocolate is a combo I can get behind. You can find the full recipe for these over at na-weekly.com.

na weekly: sweet & savory

I got a bit behind with things last fall; I had two recipes published in the Norwegian American Weekly’s Taste of Norway and I never made time to mention them here. Better late than never!

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In September we were right in the middle of autumn in Tromsø, and it felt like a great time to do a Nordic take on the classic grilled cheese & tomato soup combo. Norway isn’t known for its amazing tomatoes, however, so I did my grilled cheese on rye bread and paired it with potato leek soup. This has been one of my favorite meals all through winter. You can find the recipe here.

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In November I did a cookie recipe on the heels of the paper’s craft month, which was October. They’re simple spritz cookies but the decoration packs a punch: sprinkles are used to recall traditional patterns from embroidery and knitting. I had a lot of fun making these. Find the recipe here.

havreflarn med choklad

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I’m back in Tromsø after spending Christmas break in Seattle, but it was such a busy month with so much work and (literal) housekeeping to do that I didn’t have time to do any Christmas baking (boo). It’s been quite cold in Tromsø since I got back, however, which is the perfect excuse to be baking – nothing warms up the house like a hot oven, you know?

Since moving to Norway I’ve become rather obsessed with a certain local company’s havrekjeks – that is, oat cookies. They’re the perfect crisp and crunchy consistency with chocolate chips and I love them. I thought it’d be fun to find an oat cookie recipe to try from my Nordic cookbook library (so that I don’t spend all my money on Bakehuset’s cookies).

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I picked out the havreflarn med choklad from Fika, the book I introduced in my previous post. Unlike Bakehuset’s havrekjeks, these cookies don’t have chocolate chips, but they do form a cookie sandwich with a chocolate filling.

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This was a very straightforward recipe, with a few prep steps (my rolled oats needed to go through the blender for a minute to bring the size down, and the chocolate for the filling has to be melted once the cookies have cooled) but mostly instructions along the lines of mixing everything together and dropping dough on the cookie sheets. I made my cookies too big at first, which took me a little while to realize. I also stacked up my baking sheets in the oven, which meant that the cookies on top achieved the idea crunchy crisp consistency I was going for while the cookies on the baking sheet below stayed a little softer (still crisp, but with a softer texture, if that makes any sense). In the photos, the cookies that were on the bottom rack have a smoother texture with larger bubbles.

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The wild card in this recipe was that the chocolate filling contains ground ginger. I love ginger, but after making these cookies, I don’t know if I love ginger with chocolate. I feel like I might swap the ginger for cardamom next time I make these. Or perhaps I’ll skip the chocolate filling altogether and throw chocolate chips into the dough instead! Ginger aside, this was a really great basic recipe for oat cookies that I’ll happily make again in different iterations in the future.

You can find the recipe for these cookies in Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

the norwegian american weekly & moving to norway

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Hi, hello! I have a couple of pieces of news today!

I’m very pleased to share that I’m one of several new contributors to the Norwegian American Weekly‘s food section, Taste of Norway. I’m incredibly grateful to the food editor Daytona (of Outside Oslo) for giving me a chance to be included, for I do love writing about food. Unlike this blog, I’ll be contributing actual recipes; much like this blog, I’ll be writing rather conversationally in my own voice and taking my own photos. My first recipe for the paper is in this week’s issue (the June 5th issue) and can be found online here. I’ve come up with an almond cookie recipe with celebratory occasions in mind: the kransekake provided some inspiration, and the recipe itself is based on one of Ojakangas’s that I’ve made several times, unsurprisingly (though I’ve made several changes to suit my taste).

At this point I’ll most likely only be contributing every couple of months or so, so I’ll post here whenever I have a new story/recipe up.

This piece of news is one of two things I’m hoping will help revitalize this blog, as well. The other piece of news is something I made passing reference to in my last post – I’m moving to Tromsø, Norway this summer to begin a master’s program at the University of Tromsø in the fall. I wrote about that decision on my other blog, but needless to say, I’m incredibly excited. One of the things I’m hoping to bring into my pieces for the Weekly when I can is my experience with exploring food culture in Tromsø. I am really only a fledgling cook, but eating out in Norway is very expensive, and I’m hoping this will be a motivator to do a lot more cooking in the kitchen (particularly when there are so many wonderful Nordic cookbooks coming out at the moment).

I’ve also been thinking about ways to keep this blog going a little bit more… regularly. It wasn’t started with the intention of being a regularly active blog, necessarily, more just a place to document what I baked out of The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, but in the nearly five years (what?!) since I started this blog, my Nordic horizons have expanded quite a lot. I’ve actively worked on my Norwegian, I visited Denmark and Sweden for the first time, I visited Norway and Iceland for the first time (and then went back, and then went back again, and again, and…). I fell in love with the Norwegian coffee scene. I started actually reading quite a few more food blogs. And then there are the new Nordic cookbooks, coffee books, and baking books that are coming out… I’ve picked up a few and found myself itching to write about them – and really, what better place is there than this? There was a time where I was unlikely to bake anything Nordic that wasn’t from Beatrice’s book, but that time has definitely passed (and in fact I think it passed a few years ago, which is why this blog has seen so few posts in the last year or two). It seems to follow that starting to include other sources in this blog makes perfect sense, and so I plan to do that bit by bit.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Taste of Norway section in the Norwegian American Weekly – I think the quality of the stuff Daytona has brought in is really excellent and it’s so exciting to see the whole section revitalized.