We have a strong Nordic influence in our studio. Frida, one of our bakers extraordinaire, is from Iceland, and I attended university in Norway, and have returned back with my family many, many times.
Come December in the Scandinavian countries, the heavy darkness of shorter days is magically lifted during Jultid (Christmastime). As if enchanted dust had been sprinkled over the streets, twinkling lights appear, glögg simmers on stovetops, and holiday treats are baked.
Distinctly thin and crisp, pepperkaker are the quintessential Norwegian Christmas cookie, cut into people, star, moose, hear and pig shapes, and often hanging from red satin ribbons in windows. During the holidays, I too, make dozens of the fragrant gingerbread cookies to decorate our house.
One year, I covered our entire tree with heart-shaped pepperkaker. We left for a week between Christmas and New Year, our tree still trimmed. When we returned home, the tree was cookie-less! Lonely ribbon strands hung on the fir boughs. “What in the world,” I thought, “did someone come in and eat our cookies?” Apparently so. That someone was a mouse! Oh country living! Despite our thief (or thieves), we still bake these cookies annually, perfuming our house with pepperkaker‘s sweet scent — we just don’t leave the house now!
• 3½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground cloves
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• ¾ cup dark molasses
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• White Royal Icing for decorating (see below)
1. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper.
2. Put the butter, molasses, and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream until fully incorporated. Stir in the dry ingredients until a dough forms. Form two disks with the dough and wrap with plastic. Chill at least three hours or overnight. (You can also put it in the freezer to chill quicker.)
4. After the dough has chilled and you’re ready to roll out your cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Remove one disk of dough form the refrigerator and roll it out ⅛ inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters. (If you’re going to having the cookies as decorations, use a wooden skewer or straw to make a small hole at the top of each cookie before baking.) Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, placing them ½ inch apart.
5. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat the rolling, cutting, baking and cooing with the second disk of chilled dough.
6. Decorate with royal icing.
Rebecca Miller Ffrench offers cooking classes and gift certificates for personal lessons in her Kingston cooking studio.
Courtesy The Upstate Table
Royal Icing Recipe
Makes 3 cups or enough for about 60 small cookies
• 4 large egg whites
• 4 cups confectioner’s sugar or more as needed.
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• Food coloring (optional)
1. Put all the ingredients minus the food coloring in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Using a whisk attachment, beat on medium high until smooth. The icing should have have the consistency of a thick buttermilk or kefir. You may need to add more sugar.
3. Test a small amount of the icing on the cookie by placing a spoonful or two into a pastry or plastic bag, snipping the corner, and piping out a line. The icing should be thick enough to hold its shape and not run off the cookie. Once you have the desired consistency, add your food coloring as desired.
Rebecca Miller Ffrench is the founder of Kingston cooking studio and cakery, The Upstate Table. This recipe was adapted from Ffrench’s now out-of-print cookbook, “Sweet Home,” Kyle Books, 2012.
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