Every Christmas, I leave my Italian cooking heritage behind and take a culinary journey to Sweden, where, in early December, children help make a spicy ginger cookie known as pepparkakor.
Tradition dictates that the cookies are not eaten until Dec. 13, which is the feast of St. Lucia and the start of the Christmas season. The feast of St. Lucia is also celebrated in many regions in Italy, where “Santa Lucia” is known as the patron saint of light.
For me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without my ginger cookies. I have been making them for more than 35 years using a timeworn and tattered magazine page that I safely keep in a book the rest of the year. Because these cookies are rolled and cut, they involve a little more effort than everyone’s favorite chocolate chip, but the recipe makes a lot and the cookies keep a long time. I usually am still eating them well into January with my afternoon tea or “dunked” in a glass of milk after dinner.
If you think you might like to give these cookies a try, there are some things to consider:
- You will need a good mixer to make these. I use a KitchenAid. It is possible a heavy-duty hand mixer will work, but the dough is fairly firm.
- After mixing, the dough needs to chill overnight in the refrigerator.
- You will need cookie cutters. Pick some in your favorite Christmas shapes. I often only use one type like stars or hearts but always make a few gingerbread boys to use as decorations around the house. They can be tied to a Christmas wreath or placed in a bowl of fresh greens.
- The thinner the cookie dough is rolled, the crisper the cookie will be.
- Your house will smell like Christmas!
- 3 ½ cups of un-sifted, all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ cup butter softened (sweet butter is best)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup light molasses
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- Measure un-sifted flour and sift with the baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves onto a large sheet of wax paper.
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and egg on high speed until light and fluffy.
- Add the molasses and lemon peel and beat until well blended.
- With a wooden spoon, stir in the sifted flour mixture.
- Mix with your hands until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is well blended and smooth.
- Cut the dough into 4 equal parts, wrap each piece in waxed paper and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, lightly grease several cookie sheets and pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Roll out one section of the cookie dough at a time, keeping the others refrigerated. Roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness.
- Cut the cookies with your desired cutter and place 1 inch apart on the greased cookie sheets.
- Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until lightly browned. (Let your oven be your guide and at first watch them carefully as they bake.)
- Remove cookies to wire racks to cool.
- When cool, store the cookies in a pretty Christmas tin and keep in a cool place (like the garage).
The cookies make a nice little gift for work friends or to take to a friend’s house for dinner. Place them in clear cellophane bags and tie them with some Christmas ribbon. When crumbled, they are delicious over vanilla ice cream for a quick dessert. And you can crush them as a substitute for graham cracker crumbs in a holiday cheesecake.
Now, if you ever have the opportunity to do a little research on the Feast of St. Lucia (why wouldn’t you?), you will learn that tradition also holds that, on the morning of Dec. 13, the eldest daughter of the family dresses in a white robe and places a wreath with lighted tapers on her head. She then brings sweet rolls to the other members of the family who are still asleep. I have never gone that far, at least not yet.