Pepperkaker is what the Norwegians lovingly call gingerbread cookies. These are very common all over the country, not just as cookies served in people’s homes, but they are often seen placed on tables in retail stores, kindergartens, nursery homes and other public buildings as an offering during the Christmas holiday season. They are particularly suited to enjoy with the piping hot mulled wine beverage, “gløgg” – the spices in both the cookies and the wine are similar, and nothing says “Christmas” quite like this combination. Families will serve this while decorating the tree, wrapping Christmas presents or just as a snack or treat in the evening time while watching Christmas movies.
Above image from ikeafamilylivemagazine.com
Tradition in Norway is to make seven different kinds of cookies before Christmas, and pepperkaker is often part of this series. There are strong opinions about which cookies exactly belong in the group of seven, and you are bound to hear as many different answers as there are Norwegians! But the most important thing, is that you select seven cookies that you and your family enjoy eating and perhaps have been part of your family history. I don’t see how anyone could dislike biting into some pepperkaker, so I always include these in my seven 🙂 Kids always love to bake these, as they are easy, tasty, come in funny shapes and sizes and are also fun to decorate. For people who are extra motivated and ambitious, gingerbread houses are often made with the same dough recipe and decorated with ‘seigemenn’, an awesome Norwegian candy:
Image from pepperkakegalleriet.no
It wasn’t until the 19th century, when the oven became a standard household appliance in Norway, that the true art of cookie baking kicked off. In the 17th century, no specific cookies were defined as “Christmas cookies” and before that it was unclear which cookies were typically baked during Christmas. What people considered food tradition for this holiday, were also repeated and made for Easter and Pentecost. The first trace of the “seven different cookie” phenomenon was traced back about 100 years ago in western Norway, but then for a wedding, not Christmas. They also included big “lefser” (a very traditional Norwegian soft flatbread made out of flour, milk and cream and spread with butter, vanilla sugar, and sometimes cinnamon), and on top two slices of bread and two types of cakes on top of that again. They were the kinds of cookies and cakes we no longer regard as very fancy, but the emphasis was on the importance of serving seven different varieties.
Above image from visitoslo.com
Along with “kringler“, more sophisticated types of bread and “kavring” (buns, biscuits or bread that are dried in the oven), the pepperkaker arrived to Norway in the 17th century. Since most people did not get ovens in their houses until the 18th century, as mentioned above, these cookies usually arrived from bakeries or large farms who were equipped with ovens. The tradition of pepperkaker continued to spread as more and more people started baking themselves when they acquired their own ovens.
So today I continue the tradition of making seven different kinds, and today is pepperkaker!
For best results, it’s preferable you make the dough for the gingerbread cookies the day before you bake them. This allows for all the spices to steep into the mixture, but also for the dough to get firm and cool enough so it is easy to handle. This recipe is super simple to veganize as it traditionally contains no eggs, and I have just gone ahead and substituted plant based creamer /milk for traditional heavy cream. This way, these cookies, while they might contain their fair share of sugar, are at least low fat! But who’s counting calories this time of year anyway? I hope you like these!!
Awesome Vegan Gingerbread Cookies
Makes about 50 cookies
1/2 cup light corn syrup (or use maple syrup or other liquid sweetener of your choice)
1 cup granulated sugar
150 grams (2/3 cups or 1 stick and 2 tbps) vegan butter
1/2 cup soy milk/creamer, or other plant based milk
3 -4 cups all purpose flour (enough to get a firm, smooth dough)
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsps ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Combine the syrup, sugar and butter in a small saucepan, heat up until sugar is dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool down the mixture. Whisk in the milk/cream, then gradually add the flour, spices and baking powder and stir until well combined. Cover the dough and place in fridge until the next day.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Knead the dough and roll out the dough until very thin, about 1/8 inch thick. Using your favorite cookie cutters, start cutting out cookies and place on the prepared cookie sheets.
Brush off any extra flour on top of cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes; the cookies are supposed to darken, but not become dark brown.
Cool off on a rack. If you want to decorate the cookies, you can mix some confectioners sugar with a few tbsp of water until proper consistency, place in a piping bag and let the artist in you out! Enjoy!