Monday, December 12, 2005
When you usually get a small tiny chocolate with your cuppa in a café, then these days back home it’s more likely to be a nice and crispy piparkook alias ‘pepper cookie’ (well, pepper cake, really, if you want a direct translation). Of course, these days it’s more likely to be a nice cup of hõõgvein or glögg rather than coffee that’s served in Estonian cafés, and a Christmassy cookie goes much better with that than a piece of chocolate anyway. Piparkook is a bit like gingerbread, just without ginger. And as other Nordic foodbloggers have started making their Christmas cookies, I decided to make some last weekend as well.
To be totally honest, I can't remember making peppercake dough myself before. I cannot remember a single Christmas when I haven’t been baking these cookies, usually few batches during each holiday season, filling the whole house with a gorgeous spicy cinnamon smell. It's one of the favourite Christmas activities with kids, who get to roll the dough, cut out the cookies and decorate them afterwards. But we used shop-bought peppercake dough in our household. These aren’t too bad and I’m sure there’s a debate going on at one of the Estonian internet message boards about which supermarket or bakery sells the best peppercake dough this Christmas… (just like they’re trying to figure out which brand of black/blood sausages have turned out really well this year…)
But again, the peppercake dough is not available in Scotland, so I had to make it myself. Making the dough was actually easy – I used a recipe from a 1999 issue of Kodukiri, the best-selling Estonian women’s monthly magazine. I added a pinch of pepper to make the cookies to live up to their name (there is a story about the name of the cookie – called peppercake in all Nordic countries – pepperkakor, peberkager, piparikakut, pepparkakor etc – but I cannot recall it at the moment, sorry). The addition of ground almonds is not typical, but it contributes to the airy and crispy character of these particular pepper cookies.
Estonian Crispy Christmas Cookies
150 ml honey
200 ml molasses or dark muscovado or soft dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardemon
2 tsp gound cloves
0.5 tsp fine salt
a pinch of finely ground black pepper
250 grams butter
700 ml plain flour
3 tsp baking soda
100 ml ground almonds
Heat honey, sugar and spices in a saucepan. When the mixture has amalgamated, add the butter and let it melt. Stir and cool.
Mix in the eggs, then add the sifted flour and baking soda and almonds. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon – the more you mix, the crispier the cookies. The dough should be quite thick and easily come off the sides of the mixing bowl, even if it sinks back when you finish stirring.
Let the dough to rest in the fridge AT LEAST for 1 day, longer, if possible. This allows the spicy flavours to develop and the cookies will be better in texture as well.
You can let the dough harden in a bowl for a while, then wrap into a cling film as a thick sausage for the professional, shop-bought Estonian peppercake dough look :)
Roll the dough out on a slightly floured board and cut into various cookie shapes.
(Just wondering here. The cookie cutters in Estonia are usually shaped like stars, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, etc. Why did I find a mushroom amongst my Kaiser Christmas cookie cutter set that I inherited from my Norwegian friend Guro few years ago? Is there a mysterious link between mushrooms and Christmas in Germany that I’ve missed? Or a little bird – not turkey/goose/duck, but something smaller looking? That was another mystery cookie cutter in my set)
Bake in a 180˚C oven for about 10 minutes, until cookies have changed colour and slightly hardened (they’ll crisp when cooling).
Decorate with a icing sugar and egg white glaze (up to about 400 ml sugar to 1 egg white)
You end up with a huge tray full of Christmas cookies, a selection of which can be seen here. I didn’t have any food colouring at home, so I used some liquid from a blackberry jam jar to tint some of the glaze. This resulted in a slightly pale lilac touches on some of the cookies (check out the first and third exclamation mark on the banner, for instance). But feel free to be way more bold with colours!