The first Christmas cookies I typically eat, are pepperkaker. These crispy, flavorful gingerbread cookies are seen everywhere across Norway from early December on to the end of the year, and a clear favorite among many kids and grown ups alike. Nothing creates the feeling of Christmas quite like the smell of these aromatic cookies baking in the oven. Gingerbread houses are also common to make, particularly in households with small children. In fact, the world’s largest gingerbread city is located in Bergen, Norway and opens every year during this time of year.
Pepperkaker have a tried and true companion, which is gløgg. Gløgg is the Scandinavian word for and version of mulled red wine, often spiked with anything from port wine, aquavit, vodka or brandy and garnished with sliced almonds and raisins. The spices in gløgg are often the same as in the pepperkaker: cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. My very own recipe for gløgg will come in a separate blog post soon, so stay tuned!
Norwegians enjoy pepperkaker and gløgg while decorating the Christmas tree, which traditionally we never did until December 23rd, or what we call “little Christmas Eve”. We would leave early in the morning and drive up to our cabin in the mountains where my family owns some land, and chop down a fresh tree, bring it home and be super excited that Christmas was finally in the house. Such glorious memories of the smell of pine and the anticipation of Christmas Eve and what was to come.
This is the easiest recipe to make vegan, because the only ingredient that is not vegan is butter, and we have many amazing versions of vegan butter now which acts and tastes the same. Some recipes include egg, but you can either omit them completely and just add a little liquid like plant-based milk or like I did in this recipe, add a bit of applesauce. In Scandinavia we have a special light syrup (you can buy it at Ikea!) but you can easily add in a syrup like maple, agave or even light corn syrup if you want.
It is best to make your pepperkake dough the day before you intend to bake them, or at the very least, keep the dough in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours before rolling it out. The reason is, there is quite a bit of butter in it, so it becomes difficult to handle if not chilled. Take small pieces out of the fridge at a time, and roll it out in batches. Make sure the cookies are cut out at an even thickness, or they will bake unevenly (it’s super easy to over bake them – I’ve done it multiple times!). You can decorate them with a confectioner’s glaze if you want, or not – it’s a fun activity to do with kids or friends and family. A little extra work, but absolutely worth it!
1 1/4 cup (250 grams) sugar
8. 5 ounces (2.5 dl) light syrup
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp baking soda
9 oz (or 2 sticks + 2 tbps) or 250 grams butter
1/3 cup + 2 ss (about 1 dl) applesauce
about 12 dl (5 cups) all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (3.5 dl) confectioners sugar
2 tbsp light syrup
about 2 tbsp almond milk (add more as needed)
To make gingerbread dough:
Cut up the butter and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.
In a small pot, add the sugar and the light syrup and bring to a gentle boil while stirring. Add in the spices; cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and keep stirring for a minute or so. Add in the baking soda, keep stirring quickly and combine well. You’ll see the mixture lighten a bit and also foam and expand.
Quickly pour the sugar-spice mixture over the butter, add the dough hook and combine until the butter is incorporated and the mixture has cooled off. Add in the applesauce and combine.
Slowly add in the flour, little by little and knead the dough until it firms up. Remove from bowl and knead into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
When ready to roll out your dough, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius). Prepare several cookie sheets by dressing them with parchment paper or silpats.
Sprinkle a clean surface with a little flour, cut off dough in pieces (I cut mine into three parts) and roll out until about 1/4 inch thick. Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut out pieces, and place cookies on prepared cookie sheets. Bake in oven for about 7-9 minutes until slightly golden.
For confectioners’ glaze:
Combine the confectioners’ sugar, light syrup and almond milk in a small bowl and stir with a fork. You may need to add a tiny bit more almond milk, do so about 1/2 tsp at a time . Place the glaze in a piping bag and decorate your cookies as you wish.
Serve cookies with a hot cup of gløgg, preferably with good friends and family, near your Christmas tree!