This year I am feeling particularly sentimental about the holidays. I am filled with joy as I watch Elise gaze at the lights on the Christmas tree and even as I remind her “gentle” when she starts yanking at the ornaments on the low lying branches. I am also missing my Grandma Ilene who passed away more than 2 years ago. She loved children and I can only imagine the smile that Elise would have brought to her face.
Ilene also was the embodiment of the Christmas spirit – a Mrs. Claus of sorts. She would always have her house beautifully decorated, fresh cookies on the counter, and most importantly a welcoming face for all family and friends to celebrate this time of year together.
Here are a couple of pictures from one of our first Christmases with Ilene. She was my step-grandma, but you wouldn’t know from any of her actions. She so generously welcomed us into the family, spoiling us with presents and love.
I wanted to write this Christmas Eve post in honor of Ilene’s spirit and to share some thoughts on our blog and blog name “Spools of Love.” In addition to creating a home for all the projects my mom and I have been working on, I also hope to capture the sense of community and connection that accompanies these activities. Putting this blog together has created an additional thread or connection between my mom and me, as well as with my Grandmother Janie, and little by little with our other friends and family members who are contributing their ideas, suggestions, and even questions.
I have had the great fortune of connecting with a new friend this past year, who moved to the Bay Area from Sweden. She generously shares so much about Sweden and Swedish culture with me. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested that we make Swedish Pepparkakor cookies with our daughters. This experience of learning the recipe and tradition from her brought my feelings of holiday joy, missing Grandma Ilene, and capturing connection full circle. I am so thankful for this friendship, and the opportunity to share this tradition with my daughter.
Read on for the recipe – adjusted for standard US measurements and ingredients. The original recipe comes from Leila.se.
Recipe for Swedish Pepparkakor Ginger Cookies
Yield: 10-12 dozen cookies
1 ¾ cups (3.5 sticks) of room temperature (soft) salted butter
+¼ cup melted salted butter for pan
2¼ cups white sugar
1 ¼ cups light syrup
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup water
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp black pepper
5 tsp lemon juice (roughly the juice from 1 medium lemon)
3 tsp baking soda
10 cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour* + all-purpose flour for rolling out dough
Pearl sugar (optional)
Note on equipment: using a hand mixer is possible for this recipe, but it makes a lot of thick dough, so a stand mixer is the best option. Also, these cookies are traditionally cut into pigs, hearts, goats, horses and a man and a woman. You can read more about the Swedish traditions that surround these cookies here.
- Mix the butter and sugar together, add the syrup.
- In a separate bowl, combine cream and water together with spices and heat to boiling point. Add to the butter-sugar mixture.
- Add the lemon juice.
- Mix flour and baking soda. Add a little at a time to the butter-sugar mixture.
- Let the dough rest for at least 24 hours in the fridge.
- Preheat oven to 375ºF
- Roll out the dough thinly (¼”) and cut out shapes with gingerbread cutters.
- Brush cookie sheet with melted butter. This butter will ensure a crunchy bottom to your cookie. Wipe pan and re-butter between each batch of cookies.
- Bake in the oven at 375ºF for about 6-8 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily. Note that the size of the cookie, in addition to the thickness, will effect baking time. I try to put all the same size cookies on one pan so some aren’t more done than others.
- These cookies can be eaten plain, sprinkled with pearl sugar prior to baking, paired with a cheese spread of blue cheese mixed with cream cheese, or frosted (recipe below)
As noted above, these cookies are great as is – crunchy, spicy, and sweet. But you can add a simple decoration by sprinkling pearl sugar on the cookies prior to baking.
Another more savory option is to mix cream cheese with blue cheese to spread on the cookies. Start with 2/3 cream cheese (softened) and 1/3 blue cheese, then add blue cheese to desired consistency and flavor. To serve this as an prepared appetizer, roll the cheese into small bite-sized balls and roll in crushed cookies.
While this is not a part of the Swedish traditional recipe – I created this frosting recipe for some of my cookies.
1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp soft butter
5-6 tsp lemon juice (roughly the juice from 1 medium lemon)
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp light syrup
¼ tsp ground cardamom – I like ½ tsp, but this may be too strong for some, so start with the smaller amount and add to taste.
pinch of salt
Mix all the above ingredients and spread thin coat on cooled cookies. Let the cookies sit out for another hour or two to allow the frosting to dry before storing. Note that the moisture in the frosting will make the cookies softer and less crunchy.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our home to yours. I hope you are experiencing joy in the big and small moments of the season, remembering the importance of family, friends, and connection.
In the new year, I hope this blog continues to be a place to collaborate and share the activities that bring joy and give meaning to our lives.