So this is my very first travel link-up post, and I’ve somehow managed to make it not even vaguely related to travel. Oh dear. I’m sorry girls, please let me come back next month. I’ll bring a bottle of gin.
The problem is that the subject of this month’s link-up is ‘Celebrating the Festive Season’ and up to this point, I have only spent one Christmas away from home. It was a couple of years ago, and my flatmates and I took advantage of the quiet airports to fly to Laos on Christmas Day (I’ve written a couple of stories about the trip here and here, and about my favourite Laotian food here). We flew Emirates so there wasn’t even so much as a reheated slice of turkey, or measly bit of cranberry sauce to mark the day. It wasn’t a celebration of anything. So rather than write about this one-off Christmas, I thought I would focus instead on something that has been an integral part of my festive celebrations since I can remember: Pepparkakor biscuits.
Pepparkakor are Swedish biscuits, often referred to as gingersnaps and eaten all year round, but cut into Christmasy shapes once December arrives, and sometimes used to decorate trees. Along with ginger, cinnamon cloves and pepper are also added, giving them a lovely deep spicy flavour. They are very thin and crisp, and make a satisfying crunch when snapped. They are also, and here is your warning, incredibly moreish. You will not be able to eat ‘just one’, or even ‘just seven’.
They came into our family via my Finnish aunt (she’s actually Finnish, so I have no idea why we’ve always called them by their Swedish name, rather than the Finnish piparkakut). Growing up, on the first weekend in December, my sisters and I would roll back the tablecloth on our large wooden kitchen table, wrap the strings of one of my mum’s aprons around our small frames about four times, argue over who got to use our favourite chopping board, and dig out the same metal cutters we used every year. My mum would make the dough, and then we would spend hours rolling and cutting, rolling and cutting, while my mum transferred our angels, trees, and ducks (I always accepted ducks as a Christmas animal, it is only now I’m questioning it. Were there ducks at the birth of Jesus? Along with the lobsters?) into the oven. Ten minutes later they would emerge, golden brown, filling our house with a wonderful spicy smell. My sisters and I would eventually get tired and disappear upstairs, long before all the dough had been used up, leaving my mum to finish the batch alone.
Even now, whenever I smell that unique combination of spices, I feel an overwhelming urge to call my mum.
For me, these simple biscuits mark the beginning of one of my favourite time of year, and the promise of lots of other lovely food to come.
So here is my Aunty Katri’s Pepparkakor recipe. It’s from Keittataito by Helmi Koskimies and Eva Somersalo, originally published in 1932!
1kg fine plain flour
175ml of cream
4 tsp of baking soda
175ml of golden syrup
2 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of ground pepper
1 tsp of ground cloves
1 tsp of ground ginger
Rub the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Heat the syrup with the spices until it boils, and then leave to cool.
Mix the bicarb into the flour.
Combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly (you will need to use your hands)
Leave to cool in the fridge for a few hours, or preferably until the following day.
Preheat oven to 180°c.
Sprinkle flour on your work surface, and then roll out as thinly as you can.
Cut into shapes and transfer to greased baking sheet
Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
(Makes a lot! But they also make lovely Christmas gifts when neatly wrapped up.)