This traditional Swedish Pepparkakor Recipe makes deliciously crisp spice cookies with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. They’re a Scandinavian Christmas tradition and they’re absolutely fabulous!
Have you ever seen a cuter Christmas cookie?
This recipe comes from the Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson. Nilsson runs the famed restaurant Fäviken, in Sweden. The book is a fascinating, well-researched collection of traditional Nordic baking recipes from breads to cakes and cookies.
I think cut out cookies are a must, at least once during the holidays. This pepparkakor recipe is lighter in color and flavor than my Easy Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing recipe. The paler cookies lend themselves to a fun Scandinavian modern theme and they’re a nice change from tired old gingerbread men 😉
What are Pepparkakor? (peh-par-KAH-kor)
Pepperkaker in Norway, Piparkakut in Iceland, Brunkager in Denmark, Piparkokur in Iceland
Pepparkakor, or pepper cookies in Swedish, are spiced ginger cookies. They come under the general heading of gingerbread cookies, and are traditionally baked for St Lucia’s Day (December 13th.) They’re also eaten at Christmas and make beautiful rustic ornaments for the Christmas tree.
Want to make pepparkakor ornaments?
Use a small straw to pierce a hole in the cookies before baking. If the hole fills in during baking, pierce again just after the cookies come out of the oven. When cool, thread a thin ribbon or string through the hole for hanging.
Ingredients in pepparkakor
- golden syrup (sirap) or honey
- spices ~ cinnamon, clove, ginger, and cardamom. I used freshly ground cardamom because I was low on the pre-ground stuff, which resulted in a distinctive flavor that I really enjoyed.
What is golden syrup?
- Golden syrup (sirap) is a kind of sugar syrup that is common in Scandinavian baking. It’s used the same way that molasses is used in gingerbread cookies, but it is much lighter in color and flavor.
- Many stores in the US do carry imported golden syrup, so definitely use it if you have it! You can also substitute honey like I have here, or even maple syrup.
I rolled these cut out cookies out a bit on the thicker side, so they bake up somewhere between soft and crunchy. This way I can package them as gifts for friends without worrying about breakage. You can roll them out thinner for more of a crisp cookie if you like.
My reindeer, Dala horse, and moose cookie cutters are perfect for pepparkakor
Pepparkakor cookies can be cut in simple hearts or star shapes, or made in any shape you like. I used simple Scandinavian modern horse, reindeer, and moose cutters.
How to get soft, unique colors from a basic box of food coloring
Don’t settle for the brash boring colors that come out of the little bottles, here are some easy tips for mixing truly beautiful, custom shades that take your cookies to the next level.
- To get pastel shades, especially when coloring small amounts of glaze, don’t add full drops of color, which can be too intense. I sometimes put a drop of coloring on a small plate, and use a toothpick and add small amounts to my glaze. Be sure to mix in thoroughly before adding more, it takes time for the coloring to get fully incorporated. Remember, soft colors are generally more appetizing then deep dark colors when it comes to frostings and glazes.
- To create subtle color variations try adding a small touch of the opposite color in the color wheel. For reds, add a tiny touch of green, for blues, add orange, for purples add yellow ~ and vice versa.
No food coloring? Try these natural food coloring ideas
- Matcha powder makes a pretty green
- Freeze fried berries like blueberry and raspberries (Trader Joe’s carries them) can be pulverized into a fine powder and used for pretty pinks and purples.
- Ground turmeric and saffron make glorious yellows.
How to do simple decorations on gingerbread cookies
Decorated Christmas cookies don’t have to be complicated to be gorgeous, and you definitely don’t have to be an artist to pull it off!
- You can coat these cookies with a layer of frosting, or decorate the plain cookies for a rustic look, both are beautiful.
- To make simple white designs on your pepparkakor put your glaze or icing into a small baggie, twist the frosting down into one corner, and snip off a tiny bit from the very tip of the corner of the bag. Pipe dots and lines onto the cookies by gently squeezing and twisting the bag. You can also use a store bought tube to do this, there’s no shame in that! Use these photos as a guide to inspire your simple decorations.
- Accent your designs with a touch of color using sprinkles like colorful balls and simple shapes like the holly leaves, below. A red nose on the reindeer is always fun.
More Scandinavian recipes from the archives ~
- Scandinavian Almond Bars
- Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Apples, and Brown Cabbage
- Finnish Salmon Soup
- Norwegian Rhubarb and Almond Cake
- Chopped Steak with Bacon and Mushroom Gravy
Swedish Pepparkakor Cookies
- cookie cutters
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar, or more if planning to cover the whole cookie.
- water, to thin
- a few drops food coloring (optional)
- pearl sprinkles (optional)
to make the cookies
- Add the sugar, honey, and milk to a small saucepan. When measuring a "scant" cup of the honey and the milk, you want to it to be just under 1/2 cup, but not closer to 1/3 cup. If you can measure in milliliters, its exactly 100 milliliters.
- Bring to a boil then turn off the heat and let cool slightly.
- Add the butter and the spices to a mixing bowl, and pour the warm syrup mixture over them. Mix until the butter is melted and everything is combined.
- Sift the baking soda, salt, and flour together, and then add to the butter and the syrup mixture. Mix until everything is evenly incorporated.
- Shape the dough into a flat disk, and chill in the fridge overnight or up to 48 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough to about 3/8" thick and cut out using cookie cutters.
- Arrange cookies on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden.
- Allow to cool completely before icing.
to make the icing
- Mix the powdered sugar with just enough water to make a smooth but thick glaze. Divide the icing into smaller batches if you want to make different colors. You can also flavor the icing with a little vanilla extract or almond extract if you'd like. For pipping lines and small designs, keep your icing pretty thick so that it won't spread, there should be a little resistance when mixing it with a whisk. For covering the entire cookie like the green and blue reindeer, add a bit more water to the icing so that it goes on smoothly and is easier to cover the whole cookie before it starts to dry and crack. Try some icing on a test cookie if you're not sure about the texture!
- For the light blue color I used, add 2-3 drops of food coloring to 1 cup or so of glaze.
- For the darker green/blue color, add a couple drops of green and blue, and a tiny touch of red to tone the color down a bit.
- Place the icing in ziplock bags or a piping bag fitted with a very small tip. Cut a tiny corner off of the ziplock bags if using. Decorate, and allow to harden completely before moving or stacking.