Find recipes and learn about age-old Scandinavian Christmas cookie traditions.
A Cherished Tradition
Recipes for Scandinavian Christmas cookies are handed down from generation to generation. Recipes might vary between families and location, but timeless favorites exist, even overlapping national borders. Among the most popular cookies:
- Pepparkakor, crisp, very thin gingersnaps from Sweden, traditionally cut out in heart and flower shapes.
- Pebber Nodder (Pepper Nuts) from Denmark and Peppernotter (Pepper Nuts) from Sweden, are the oldest Christmas cookie in Scandinavia and Europe, dating to medieval times when spices were used exclusively for holiday baking.
- Fattigmann (Poor Man), from Norway, also dates to the Middle Ages, and, along with rosettes, is typical of traditional cookies deep-fried in unsalted fat.
- Krumkake, Vaffler, and Goro from Norway date to the 1700s. Originally made over open fires using decorative irons, modern cooks use electric or stovetop irons to bake paper-thin wafers imprinted with delicate filigree patterns. Krumkake, wrapped around a wooden cone, are named for the buttery crumbles left in your hand when you take a first bite.
- Pepparkakorhus, the traditional gingerbread house, often a family project, is a centerpiece on many Christmas tables.
- Aebleskiver, plump doughnut-like round balls are a favorite in Denmark served when friends and family go visiting between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Traditional Scandinavian Cookie Recipes:
Special care goes into choosing the highest quality ingredients.
- Sweet, uncultured butter
- Vanilla sugar, similar to vanilla-flavored confectioners’ sugar
- Sliced, ground, or whole almonds for dough and decoration
- Marzipan paste made of ground almonds and fine castor sugar
- Spices, especially ground ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon
- Hornsalt, or baking ammonia–the Scandinavian equivalent of baking powder– makes cookies crisp and light
- Pearl sugar (large sugar crystals) for decoration
The Cookie Baking Season
Baking is a fine art year-round in Scandinavia. But come late November, the serious Christmas baking begins.
Danish and Norwegian home cooks bake at least seven different kinds of cookies–a carryover from the 19th century when the number reflected a family’s wealth and status. The buttery treats are packed away in tins awaiting the first Sunday of Advent and the official start of holiday entertaining. That’s when Scandinavians especially love the ritual of gathering around the living room coffee table to enjoy after-dinner coffee and a dazzling array of cookies.
A Long History
Scandinavian Christmas cookie baking traditions have deep historic roots and influences.
- Keeping the pantry filled to guard against famine during fierce northern winters.
- Pre-Christian, winter solstice celebrations of feasting and beer drinking.
- Viking hospitality, welcoming travelers and guests with a fine feast.
- Medieval baking traditions using spices and sugar to mark church events, especially Christmas.
- Culinary influences adapted from France, Germany, and Austria.
- Widespread popularity and availability of coffee in the 1860s, inspiring after-dinner coffee table gatherings.
- Finely milled flours, white sugar, and spices becoming available for the average homemaker in the 1880s.
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