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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kanelkakor

I have long had an aversion to walnuts in baked goods, largely because I can’t stand walnuts in two of the most basic American baked goods there are: brownies and chocolate chip cookies. They’re very polarizing in these two cases; some people love them, some detest them. I’ve always fallen into the latter camp. I think walnuts will always ruin what is otherwise a perfectly delicious brownie or chocolate chip cookie. I never wanted them in muffins, either, no matter what kind of muffin.

I don’t dislike walnuts as a rule. Growing up, the stuffing my mother made for Thanksgiving dinner every year contained walnuts, and it was often my job to crack the walnuts open as we were prepping. I enjoyed this task immensely, and I often enjoyed snacking on the walnuts, too. To this day, whenever I eat walnuts on their own, the smell and the taste take me straight back to sitting at the kitchen table on Thanksgiving morning with the parade on the television, cracking open walnuts as my brother and I helped mom prepare for dinner.

The good news is, I’ve found a cookie with walnuts that I really, really like: Swedish Cinnamon-Walnut Cookies.

I’m in Oslo for the summer, and it’s largely been a very warm, very sunny summer. The weather’s finally cooled off, though, and some rain systems have moved in, so my friend Alex (the same one mentioned here) came over to bake with me yesterday. We decided to try these cinnamon walnut cookies – it’s a very simple recipe which doesn’t need very many ingredients, so we were mostly stocked up already. I also had some pretty divine French butter I bought at Mathallen that I thought would work quite well (when ingredients are few and simple, it always pays to use the best quality ingredients you can). As it was a Sunday (most grocery stores in Norway are closed on Sundays), I popped down to the local greengrocer/import store which was open to see if they had any vanilla extract. They didn’t, but they did have vanilla bean – and as it turns out, if you scrape out the seeds from the bean, you can use those as a substitute. It’s a much lengthier process than measuring out a teaspoon of vanilla extract, but the cookies definitely didn’t seem to suffer as a result. Alex and I simply dispersed the seeds in a small bowl with the egg (the closest thing to a liquid ingredient) before beating it into the dough.

I think using the nice French butter really paid off. The dough alone was exquisite. And as I mentioned, very few ingredients were needed: the dough was made from butter, sugar, flour, egg, cinnamon, and vanilla.

After the dough was chilled for 30 minutes, we pulled it out of the fridge. Small pieces were rolled into balls, which were then rolled in a blend of cinnamon, sugar, and chopped walnuts, and then placed on the baking sheet.

The balls of dough flatten out into the loveliest little domes in the oven. The resulting cookie was something like a snickerdoodle, but lighter, fluffier, and covered in walnuts. They were delicious. These would make a perfect Christmas cookie, and I’m already looking forward to making them again during the holiday season. I’m very pleased to have found a walnut cookie I love.

klippekrans


(Klippekrans backstage at Mississippi Studios; photo by James Bailey)

The klippekrans is a Norwegian cinnamon wreath, and as I found out after I baked it, it is absolutely massive. That’s one thing I noticed just leafing through the book – the portions are all pretty huge, at least by my standards. I did what any sensible person would do; I shared it. My boyfriend and I were heading down to Portland to catch Damien Jurado’s last show of his US tour at the beginning of July, so we decided to take it with us.

The end product was seriously delicious. It was a little bit like a cinnamon roll with less icing. A giant cinnamon roll. For whatever reason, my dough didn’t rise as much as I thought it would before it went in the oven, and then it grew a lot once it was in there, so the outer layer of dough split apart a little bit. The end product was pretty dense for this reason, too, but it still tasted good! And sharing the klippekrans with friends and the bands was awesome and rewarding. I think that’s going to be my way around the huge portions.