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CHRISTMAS

How to make Swedish pepparkakor

Pepparkakor, Sweden's traditional ginger snap biscuits, are a staple of the country's festive season. Food writer John Duxbury shares his favourite recipe with The Local.

How to make Swedish pepparkakor
Pepparkakor. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food

QUICK OVERVIEW

Makes: 150 medium sized biscuits

Time needed: 60 minutes (plus overnight standing)

INGREDIENTS

½ tbsp cardamom pods

150 g (1¼ sticks) butter or margarine

250 g (1 cup) sugar (white, brown, or a mixture)

50 g (2 ½ 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

100 ml (6 ½ tbsp) water

450 g (3 ½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour

METHOD

STEP 1 – Lightly crush the cardamom pods so that the seeds can be emptied out.

STEP 2 – Grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes.     

STEP 3 – Mix the butter, sugar, syrup, and treacle in a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts, stirring continuously.    

STEP 4 – Add the spices and mix throughout.

STEP 5 – Add the baking powder and stir again.

STEP 6 – Add the water and stir once more.

STEP 7 – Add most of the flour and stir throughout until it’s completely mixed in.

STEP 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.  

STEP 9 – Preheat the oven to 200C.

STEP 10 – Take a small portion of the dough for a test bake. The dough will be very firm and hard to cut initially – knead it to soften it a bit.  

STEP 11 – Roll it out thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut it into shapes using a biscuit (cookie) cutter. Remove unwanted dough first and then, with a spatula, lift the biscuit on to cold, greased baking trays (cookie sheets).


Gingersnaps can come in all shapes and sizes. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

STEP 12 – Bake for 5-8 minutes until golden brown. They should be crispy, but keep an eye on them as they burn very easily.


The Christmas treats don’t need to be in the oven for long. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

STEP 13 – If the test batch spreads out and the biscuits lose their shape, add some more flour and do another test bake.

STEP 14 – If the test batch is good, bake the rest in batches until all the dough is cooked. Leave to cool on the baking sheets, as they break easily when hot.

STEP 15 – When cold enough to handle easily, move to a wire rack to let them cool completely. 


Swedes will fika on ginger snaps through the Christmas season – preferably with glögg. Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

Any hot beverage works well together with pepparkakor (such as tea or coffee) but for an added Christmas-feel, serve with glögg. 

TIPS

The biscuits keep well and can be stored for up to four weeks in an air-tight container. While you’re already baking, make double the quantity shown in the recipe – these nibbles are addictive and will go around. Swedes often decorate their pepparkakor with icing (frosting). In addition to being delicious, they also make for excellent decorations, ready to be hung up – just make sure you remember to put a hole through them before baking if you want to hang them.

Recipe courtesy of John Duxbury, Editor and Founder of Swedish Food.

Article originally published in 2014 and updated in December 2021

For members

DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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