My grandparents were Swedish and my Grandma Wallin’s cooking reflected that. Some of my strongest food memories of her are from Christmastime, when we would gather every Christmas Eve for a traditional Swedish feast. The most fun food that she served was pepparkakor, a thin and crispy Swedish gingersnap.
The reason the grandkids loved pepparkakor so much was because my grandmother would always have us hold a cookie in the palm of our hand and then tap the center to break it. If you were able to break the cookie into three pieces, you could make a wish! Needless to say, the grandkids went through many cookies and, despite all of our practicing, we were never as skilled at breaking the cookies into three as my grandmother was!
Pepparkakor was just one of the many things that my Grandma Wallin made from scratch for Christmas. While I have shared many of those recipes with my kids, I only just recently realized that I have never made pepparkakor or taught my kids the special trick to garner wishes. I decided this was the year!
So, I told my kids all about my memories of pepparkakor and sent my parents an email requesting the recipe. Turns out my mom has never made pepparkakor and she never watched my Grandma Wallin make the cookies, either. She and my dad dug out the old cookbook that all the Swedish grandmothers used back in the day, including my grandmother. Lucky for us there were recipes for gingersnaps in Swedish Recipes Old and New compiled by the American Daughters of Sweden in 1955. Unlucky for us, there were a LOT of recipes for gingersnaps and we had no idea which one my Grandma used in her kitchen! After pouring over the recipes I selected a few that looked promising and my kids and I got to work making dough.
Of all the 3 Kids, a Mom & a Kitchen recipes I’ve made with my children, this one was the most interesting for all of us and we were all very invested in the results. So, did we find my grandma’s recipe? Well…
Choosing the Recipe: Pepparkakor
I chose two recipes from the Swedish cookbook, one that only used molasses and another that only used dark corn syrup. I figured one or the other would be the ticket.
Rankings: What We Thought of the Recipes
We all loved how the corn syrup-based recipe tasted, but the dough was hard to work with, the cookies weren’t very pretty, and this recipe most definitely was NOT the one Grandma Wallin used. The recipe that used molasses, however, was wonderful. These cookies had a rich molasses flavor, were beautiful, and the dough was great to work with, which is nice when cooking with kids.
Did we find my Grandma’s recipe? Maybe. The cookies rose when they cooked but weren’t thin or crispy enough. We were able to break a few of them into pieces but not all of them. While we were a little bummed about the wish tradition not really working out, we did love the cookies and had a lot of fun making them. Next time I’m going to try rolling the dough even thinner and cooking the cookies a little longer. And we are for sure going to try a few more recipes!
Steps Where Kids Can Get Involved
The dough for these cookies is pretty standard in terms of preparation, but you do need to cook the molasses on the stove, which is a great task for an older child to tend to. All of the kids helped measure and dump ingredients into the bowl as well as whisk the egg and molasses. Sifting is also easy for the kids to do, but be warned, they will ALL want to do it so be sure to give everyone a turn. Using the cookie cutters was everyone’s favorite part!
The dough needs to chill overnight. I made the dough quickly after dinner one night with the kids and then we baked the cookies the next day after school. The timing worked very well.
My kids liked both cookie recipes, but I was especially delighted that they liked the molasses cookies so much. I wasn’t sure if the flavor would be too strong, but they loved the cookies nevertheless!
I am not going to share the corn syrup-based recipe with you because, honestly, even though those cookies tasted good, the recipe is nothing to write home about. But the molasses-based cookies are great and definitely share-worthy!
Pepparkakor (Swedish Ginger Cookies)
From Swedish Recipes Old and New, compiled by the American Daughters of Sweden in 1955 in Chicago and rewritten a bit by Jane Maynard for clarity.
½ cup molasses
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter
1 egg, well beaten
1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Heat molasses in a small saucepan to boiling point then boil for 1 minute. Add sugar and butter and stir until butter is melted. Set aside to cool.
2. Beat egg into cooled molasses mixture.
3. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.
4. Add dry ingredients to molasses mixture and mix thoroughly. (I mixed everything in my stand mixer on medium-low speed.)
5. Place dough on a large piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a larger disc, and wrap well with plastic wrap. Chill overnight in the fridge.
6. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
7. Roll out a portion of the cold dough at a time on a floured surface. Roll very thin and then cut with cookie cutter (my grandma always made them into hearts).
8. Bake 6-8 minutes.