In Denmark, they're called Brune kager. In Finland, their name is Piparkakut, and in Norway, Pepperkaker or Brune kaker. When I'm with my Swedish friends, they are definitely Pepparkakor. But, if you're not Scandinavian, (I'm not) just call these thin, crisp and lightly spiced cookies Christmas Ginger Snaps.
I was invited to join a few friends for their annual day of baking holiday ginger cookies, a tradition they began several years ago. They supplied me with the recipe. I was instructed to prepare one batch of dough for baking day and show up with a rolling pin, something to roll the dough out on, any mini-cookie cutters I had in my collection, paper cupcake liners and cookie tins.
A few days before the marathon baking day, I mixed the dough according to the instructions on the recipe, holding back 1½ cups of the flour to use for rolling out the dough. The dough was very sticky, but I covered it up tightly and stuck it in the refrigerator. I learned later, from the experienced bakers, that through trial and error, they've discovered it works best to add all of the flour at mixing time.
It was just after 9 a.m. on the appointed day when I arrived at the baking site with two other bakers. The lovely kitchen had two ovens and plenty of counter space. Our hostess had already begun rolling, cutting and baking. The aromas of ginger and cinnamon and freshly brewed coffee greeted us at the door.
I had everything I needed, including my bowl of well-chilled, very sticky cookie dough. Not to worry, though. I quickly took my cue from the experienced bakers, pushing up my sleeves and donning my apron. All I had to do, they instructed, was take a small piece of the not-quite-right dough from my bowl and knead some flour into it. And, it worked. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the dough rolled out to as thin as a piece of paper.
Anyone peeking in the kitchen windows that day might have thought there was a mean cookie-baking machine at work -- three women rolling and cutting and one on alert at the oven. Tiny cookies of all shapes started accumulating on the kitchen table. Once cool, they were transferred to cupcake liners, a dozen cookies in each.
We took just a few breaks. An hour for lunch, a few minutes to make a Chardonnay toast to one baker who had just received word she had a new grandchild, a minute here and there to eat an occasional broken cookie, and finally, to fill our tins full of just-baked ginger snaps. How many cookies, you wonder? Well, 1,860 to be exact. Now that's a full day's work.
Despite how thin these cookies are, they are surprisingly sturdy. When arranged in paper cupcake liners and carefully packed into cookie tins, Christmas Ginger Snaps will stay fresh-tasting in the freezer for weeks, even months. Make some heart-shaped cookies and pull them out of the freezer for Valentine's Day.
You don't need to take a full day to make these Christmas Ginger Snaps. And you don't need to be Scandinavian to get great results. But, if you happen to have a free day during the holiday season, I highly recommend gathering friends and family to bake together. Memories of a happy baking day will last forever.
Christmas Ginger Snaps
2/3 cup dark corn syrup, slightly warm
1/2 cup soft butter
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
5 cups all-purpose flour
Mix all ingredients except flour. Gradually add flour. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Working with small portions of dough at a time, roll very thin on a floured pastry cloth. Cut out cookies with cutters of your choice. Place on lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in preheated oven for about 8 minutes. Watch very closely. Depending on the oven and how thin the cookies are, baking time may be less. Let cookies cool on sheets before transferring to rack. Makes about 250 cookies, depending on the size, of course.
Taken from Scandinavian Cookbook: Culinary Guide to the Four Scandinavian Countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden by Greta Borgstrom and Birgit Danfors, 1965.
Tips from the bakers
--Roll out small portions of dough at a time. Keep remaining dough refrigerated.
--Have plenty of cookie sheets available. The cookie sheets should be completely cool when you place the cookie cutouts on them.
--Dark corn syrup can be warmed just a little bit in the microwave oven. It should not be hot when it is added to the mixing bowl. Or it can be heated in a small saucepan on the stove.
--One baker recommends keeping cookies away from the very edge of the baking sheet. Those close to the edge get too dark.
--Adjust baking time according to the size of the cookies.