Family’s Swedish cookies taste better as they age

This story was published on Dec. 02, 2006 on Page S3 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

During the holidays, I suspect we are more likely to get out old family recipes, dust them off, and make dishes that trigger all kinds of memories.

These Swedish cookies bring up childhood memories for my younger sister and I. Our grandmother was born in Sweden in the late 1890s, emigrating with her family to Connecticut when she was 6. As an adult, she mostly cooked American dishes, I suppose to please my swamp Yankee granddad. Her sister, my Aunt Lee (for Lisabet), was a terrific baker, and was the sort that provided all kinds of sweets for any occasion. But at Christmas time, Gram made these cookies, and years later so did my mom.

Actually my mom was one of those prodigious cookie bakers, making upwards of 900 one year. She gave plates-full to her hairdresser, the mailman, neighbors, friends, and went armed with them to Sunday School Christmas parties, stamp club’s December meeting, you name it. Lest you develop any fantasies about we children clustered around the kitchen table helping her while she baked, you ought to know she worked most of this magic while we were at school so that she could soldier on unencumbered by clumsy little kids. She stored them in tins with tight fitting lids, and complained when my father raided them.

Among the first in the season she made were these Gamaldags Peparkakor. We were told it meant Good Day Pepper Cakes, the “pepper’ being spicy ginger. They are ideal for making early because their flavor improves as the month wears on, and you can, in fact, keep them even into January. They don’t need freezing. Actually, I don’t understand about freezing cookies anyway. If they are stored in tins wrapped with a layer of waxed paper, most cut-and-rolled type cookies store very nicely unfrozen. It is my experience that frozen cookies are at risk of coming out tasting as stale as the air in someone’s freezer.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies. I roll them fairly thinly, but you might like a thicker cookie, and how many you get will depend on the average size of your cutters. I especially love the bit of orange peel in them, and the blend of the spices which I often measure generously heaped.

Also be aware that the dough will be stiff to mix and that you need to chill it before rolling it out. They are the perfect tea-dunking cookie, and if you make them now, in a couple of weeks the flavors will have melded and be perfect to offer anyone who comes over to see your Christmas tree. If you cut some in a more generic shape (plain circle or diamond) you can pull those out in January.

Gamaldags Peparkakor

Yields several dozen.

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 unbeaten egg

3/4 cup molasses

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg, molasses, and orange peel. Sift together all the dry ingredients and add them to the butter and sugar mixture, until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated. The dough will be stiff and sticky. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to make the cookies, grease a couple of baking sheets, and generously sprinkle your cutting surface with flour. Roll out small (softball sized) pieces of dough to about 1/8 of an inch thick, and cut your cookies. You may have to slide a spatula under them to loosen them. Slip them onto the baking sheet and decorate as you wish. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely before storing.

Looking for?..

I would like a recipe for the traditional French Canadian creton, the kind made with pork. I have heard this is a holiday dish, and I would like to know how and when it was served.

Send queries or answers to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848. E-mail: For recipes, tell us where they came from. List ingredients, specify number of servings and do not abbreviate measurements. Include name, address and daytime phone number.