Monday, 12 November 2012

Finnish Christmas Cookies


The spicy gingersnaps  come from Finland which is home to over 200,000 reindeer.  Santa will have no trouble recruiting some of them to pull his sleigh so avoiding their more usual destination, reindeer stew!

There are many variations of this recipe. This particular one arrived at my friend Deb’s house via a Christmas card from her Finnish host sister Satu who still keeps in touch. Deb has fond memories of celebrating Christmas in Finland as a 16 year old Rotary exchange student in 1981.

It was a dark and bitterly cold time of year so Christmas was spent indoors. Baking was a big part of it and the enticing smell of cookies baking would permeate the air. In her host family it was a tradition to make one of these spicy Christmas cookies for each family member and hang it on the Christmas tree.

“The main Christmas dinner was on what we call Christmas eve (24th December) “Deb recalls.” Earlier that day everyone, including my host family, went from house to house to take presents, especially chocolates and poinsettia flowers. We would be served   cookies and a glass of mulled wine at different people’s houses. During the preparation of the wine most of the alcohol would have evaporated as it came to the boil so it was not a boozy affair! Just a fun occasion for families and friends to get together.”

We enjoyed some Joulupiparkakut at a pre Christmas party along with some mulled wine. They were baked by Hannah, Deb’s daughter, a Year 9 student at Diocesan. What she enjoys about baking is that it is creative as well as fun. For her Christmas is a joyful family time and a chance to do some baking. Her Grandma, who is an excellent baker herself, has been a very big influence on her. Hannah can remember her first attempts at baking with her at the age of 5.

Baking these cookies is not for the faint hearted, but the result is well worth it. Hannah found the dough very sticky to work with although she used a floured rolling pin. We wondered if it was Auckland’s hot, humid summer weather.

The cookies are not usually iced but Hannah enjoyed decorating them and giving them her own creative twist. They looked gorgeous. As I left she generously gave me some prettily wrapped in a red bag tied with a ribbon and promised to send the recipe.

I made some the following evening. Surely leaving the dough to rest for an hour or so in the fridge would suffice? But no, although I rolled it between two sheets of glad wrap (which generally works like a dream) it was soon a sticky mess.

The dough needed to rest. I put it to bed in the fridge patted into flattish discs and left ot overnight.

The following day I sprinkled a little flour on some glad wrap, put a disc of dough on it, brushed a little more flour over it and covered it with another sheet of glad wrap .Then I rolled it out quickly and thinly (no thicker than 3mm or the cookies will not become crisp) and cut them out with Christmas cookie cutters. If the dough started to soften before I was done I just put it back in the fridge (or the freezer) to harden for a few minutes.

The instructions were to bake at 7-10 minutes at 200C but in my oven this resulted in charred edges. I found that 8 minutes at 180C (fan forced) gave the best result.

In Finland it’s easy to just buy the spice mixture ready made from the shops. But here you have to mix your own. You can experiment with different quantities to your own liking. I included some cardamom as it’s so popular in Scandinavia and a little mixed spice.

Ground dried orange peel will also often be included which is not available here, but you could add a teaspoon of finely grated orange rind. The quantities I used were as follows (1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon, 11/2 teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of mixed spice, ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom.)

This recipe makes heaps of these little treats for sharing around and giving away. If you don’t want to bake them all at once the dough will keep in the freezer for weeks. Rolled into a cylinder they can easily be sliced thinly while still frozen and then quickly baked.

They’re good to serve with coffee or some mulled wine.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Or as they say in Denmark: Glædelig jul og godt nytår !

Here is the original recipe:

100 ml molasses ( I used golden syrup)
1 cup sugar
250g butter
2 eggs
3-4 teaspoons of spices (e.g. cinnamon, ginger, cloves)
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda.

Mix together molasses, sugar, butter and spices. Set aside.
Add eggs and flour, mix in soda. Knead together on the bench until it doesn't stick to your hands.
Leave in fridge overnight.
Next day roll into thin sheets and cut out shapes.
Bake in oven at 200C for 7-10 minutes.

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