While I wouldn’t suggest you do this when making the popular Norwegian Christmas cookies “pepperkaker”, the Norwegian word for “ginger bread cookies”, there is a famous “pepperkake” song by famous Norwegian playwright and children song writer Torbjørn Egner that goes something like this (It rhymes in Norwegian, so won’t sound as good in English!):
“When a pepperkake” baker bakes pepperkaker
He first grabs a saute pan
and two pounds of margarine
In the pan, the butter melts
And the next thing he must do
is to whisk the butter with two pounds of sugar
and while the butter and sugar is foaming
he adds 8 egg yolks
which he swirls around in the pan
with two pounds of flour
and in the end he adds a small teaspoon of pepper
and whisks the batter around
and dumps the dough on a cutting board
Now the story goes, if you want “double peppered” ginger breads, you add only one teaspoon of sugar, and two pounds of pepper… but let me tell you, that is a lot of pepper!!!
While I like a lot of spice in my cookies, I also want them to be slightly sweet, but perhaps not as sweet as say, a chocolate chip cookie. These cookies are a perfect companion to the Norwegian version of mulled wine popularly called gløgg in Scandinavia (read more about it and get my recipe here) and is equally popular among kids and adults. The common tradition is snacking on pepperkaker and sipping on som gløgg while decorating the Christmas tree on the day before Christmas eve, and also creating and decorating ginger bread houses. Nothing is as festive, and between the gløgg and the pepperkaker, the smell coming out of the kitchen is nothing short of amazing.
The “must include” ingredients in Norwegian ginger bread cookies, include syrup (in the U.S. you can use maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, or light or dark corn syrup to substitute), ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Cardamom is also commonly used. Pepper, despite the name of the cookie, is not a necessary ingredient in the cookie.
Image from pepperkakegalleriet.no
Ginger bread cookies are probably the most traditional of Christmas cookies found in Norway, and arrived in Norway around the 17th century. Household stoves didn’t become common until the 19th century, so most of the ginger bread cookies came from professional bakeries or big farms that had ovens. Ginger bread houses are also very popular, and the city of Bergen has claimed the title to have the biggest gingerbread town in the world for about 25 years now!
Here is a photo of it :
Image from visitbergen.com
I have heard there is perhaps competition to be found in Minnesota, and would love some of my readers to contribute to photos if anyone has any!
In Norway, gingerbread houses are made to serve first and foremost as Christmas decorations during the holiday, but when Christmas is over, it gets eaten by the kids 🙂
I naturally had to experiment with a recipe that contains no eggs or milk, and as always – it is super easy to eliminate these animal foods and create just as tasty of a product with plant based alternatives. I’ve included my recipe below, which I really hope you’ll be tempted to try out!! The cookies turned out perfectly imperfect looking, just as I like them – because that is the sign they are home made and not made by a factory or bakery – the best kind!!
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses or maple syrup
1/4 cup plant based milk or soy creamer
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
Sift together the dry ingredients in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the oil and sugar for a couple of minutes. Add the syrup, milk and vanilla extract. Add in the dry ingredients until a stiff dough is formed. Dump out onto a surface and pat down to a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for several hours or overnight.
When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly grease two cookie sheets. Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes with your cookie cutters.
Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes.
The cookies might seem soft, but will quickly harden up once they cool off. Mine turned out not perfect, but oh so tasty! 🙂
If you would like to decorate the cookies, just mix 1 cup of confectioners sugar with 2-3 tbps water until desired consistency, add into a pastry bag and decorate away! 🙂