Monday, December 12, 2005

Estonian Christmas cookies: piparkoogid

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
(Krõbedad piparkoogid)

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
2 eggs
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!


Anonymous said...

Hi Pille, thank you for sharing your great Estionian Christmas bakery recipe. Very charming and interesting post again. We have something very similar in Austria called "Lebkuchen" (the exact translation is "life cake"). Usually the housewives already make it at the end of November so it can get smooth by the time Christmas finally arrives. As for the birds I don't know, but the mushroom might count as a New Year's symbol.... BTW, I have also done my baking this weekend. Happy Advent Time, angelika

Kimbie said...

Oh my : ) I was having trouble feeling Christmassy this year, but reading through Food Porn Watch is really helping! This cookies look incredible, they're my favourite part of German Christmas fairs!

Anonymous said...

Your cookies look great!


Alanna Kellogg said...

Ooo! So lovely! Add this to an already long list! They do look like lebkuchen except with butter and eggs which the version I baked with neighbors last week didn't have. It's posted here -- lebkuchen

Anonymous said...

Nice cookies! After your's and Angelika's post I feel like I have taken a Christmas cookie trip around the world :) Love reading your Estonian recipes, keep 'em comin' :)

Anne said...

That looks awesome! I'm really bad at decorating my cookies. :) Hey, I tagged you for the latest meme...

Cindy said...

Nice, look a bit like gingerbread :)

Pille said...

Aangelika - I guess it's my turn to try some Lebkuchen now, although I may have to wait till next year to get it right;) Also, thanks for telling me about the mushroom as a symbol for new year. I asked my grandma last weekend, and she was lost for the Christmas connection as well.. I did check out your baking spree - amazing!

Kimbie - these cookies were lovely, and I expect to be eating similar ones for the next 2 weeks, as I'm in Estonia for the holidays and that's the staple nibble here this time of the year..

Paz - thank you!

Alanna - thanks for the link to the Lebkuchen story - you have 2 wonderful teachers! I will give Lebkuchen a go one day..

Joey - believe me, I have loads more Estonian stories coming - even if most of them have to wait until new year..

Anne - your pepparkakor grissini looked lovely, so you cannot be bad in decorating them!!!
Thanks for tagging me for the 10 fave foods meme - I'll get around to it as soon as I'm done with all Christmas cooking and baking..

Cindy - I guess they are gingerbread after all, just without the ginger:)

Ewie said...

I'm French, I'm in year 9 and I'm doing an account about Estonia with two friends. I present this account Thursday in class and tomorrow I want to do your "Estonian Christmas Cookies" or "piparkoogid" in order that we (my 2friends, me & other pupils of my class) relish Estonian cook.
Your blog is formidable! You mustn't stop it!

Anonymous said...


I'm from the U.S. and have an elerly neighbor who is from Estonia. I made your piparkoogid recipe to give him as a Christmas gift. They taste GREAT - but they aren't crisp. I'm wondering if I didn't cook the honey & molasses long enough. Any tips? I'm sure he'll enjoy them either way, but I'd like them to be as authentic as possible!


Plume said...

I just made those and they are absolutly delicious!
I had a hard time rolling and cutting the dough, though.
It was very soft even after two days in the fridge.
Thanks for the recipe, I will probably translate it in french on my blog (giving the credit to you, of course) if you are OK.

realterego said...

Thanks for the recipe, it looks delicious, and I'm going to try out )

btw, as concerns mushrooms... it could derive from vikings, berserkers, who used to consume hallucinogenic mushrooms ))


Spinning Girl said...

mmmm nüüd on piparkoogi tuju!!!

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of baking these with my vanaema as a child. She has a "secret" recipe so I've never been able to recreate them...and Estonian recipe books are hard to come by here in Australia.

I'm going to give your recipe a try!
Thank you for posting it...and your cookies look delicious :D

animeshon said...

Oh I'm glad I've found your blog, and just wish I had of discovered it before Christmas so I could have made piparkoogid. My great-grandfather came out from Estonia and my family in New Zealand still follow a lot of traditions, but the family back in Estonia made piparkoogid for me one Christmas when I was a child and I've been wanting to make some to share with my friends.

lillysmuul said...

just see mida vaja, tanan jagamst!

Unknown said...

I'm going to give your recipe a go. I'm an Australian living in the UK. My mother (Ema) used to religiously make hundreds of Piparkoogid every year for Christmas. I have tried to duplicate her recipe but this year will try yours. Hers was :
250g butter, 1 egg, 100g golden syrup, 2 tsps. ginger, 2 tsps. grated dried orange peels, 2 tsps. bi-carb soda, 100g caster sugar, 100g sugar, 2 tsps. cinnamon powder, 2 tsps. nutmeg and 500g plain flour. The making of it is similar to the one mentioned here.