Gingerbread biscuits

Mention Christmas baking and every country has their own specialities; Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, Stollen, lebkuchen, Buche de Noel… the list goes on. To me Christmas is saffron buns and gingerbread biscuits.
Baked gingerbread biscuits

When I first moved to the UK I used to buy gingerbread dough from IKEA. One year they were sold out, and I decided to have a go at making my own.
I found a recipe that was nice enough, but I felt something was missing from it, so in the end I asked my mum for hers – it was pretty similar to the one I had used, but with the addition of cardamom. Using her recipe instead brought me straight back to childhood!
Cutting out gingerbread biscuits

I haven’t been able to find ground cardamom in any supermarket here, so I get whole cardamom pods instead, take the seeds out and ground them in a pestle and mortar. I haven’t figured out how many cardamom pods you need to get the amount in the recipe, I usually just estimate and add a few more than the ground amount {last I made them I used about 1½-2 tsp of whole cardamom pods which gave them quite a kick}. Don’t be tempted to leave it out due to the extra step of grounding them up {unless you are making them for decoration and not eating, in which case it won’t matter} as it’s what gives them a bit of heat. In fact, the literal translation of the Swedish word ‘pepparkakor’ is ‘peppercakes’, so they should have a bit of heat, which the other spices doesn’t manage to provide on their own.
Gingerbread biscuits with star cut out

Baking tips
– If making these for eating, make them as thin as possible – 2mm is ideal for thin and crispy biscuits, and the flavour somehow ends up different than to thicker ones. If they are for decorating and hanging in the tree for example on the other hand, they should be thicker, and some of the spices could be left out
– There is a darker ‘baking syrup’ available in Sweden that’s usually used in these. In order to get some of the darker colour, and a bit of richness, I add a tablespoon of treacle to the dough, and usually reduce the amount of golden syrup with about the same amount.
– Only roll out a small amount of dough each time instead of the whole dough – it’s much easier to get them thin that way.
– Use a timer when baking them! You’ll be able to tell by the smell when the first batch is ready, but after four or five batches your whole kitchen will be filled with heavenly gingerbread scents and you won’t be able to tell when the batch in the oven is done. If you make them very thin they go from just right to burnt in no time. Set the timer for the shorter time initially and adjust it after a few batches.
– The recipe makes about 175 biscuits, which may sound a lot, but you don’t have to make them all at once – the dough keeps well covered in the fridge for a few days, ready to be baked off when needed. It’s also worth remembering it’s hard to have just one at the time, having two, three or four is more like it, and not considered greedy if you make them small! Plus they are a great gift for friends and family, kids love making them and it doesn’t matter if they {and you!} have a bit of the dough while making them 🙂
Gingerbread biscuits and cutters

Gingerbread biscuits

Ingredients
150 g butter
250 ml sugar
50 ml golden syrup
1 tbsp treacle (optional – reduce the golden syrup by same amount if using)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
½ tbsp ground ginger
½ tbsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom (about 1½ tsp whole cardamom pods, seeds ground in a pestle &  mortar)
½ tsp bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
100 ml water
750 ml plain flour

NOTE: Swedish recipes tend to use volume for measurement instead of weight, and I keep forgetting to check the weights when making them…

Method
1) Stir the butter, sugar and golden syrup (+ treacle if using) until smooth. Add the spices and bicarbonate, stir until incorporated, then add water, stir again, and finally the flour – stirring it all together until a smooth dough.
2) Cover the dough and leave in the fridge for at least a day to allow the dough to rest and the spices to develop and marry. {Though it would probably be fine just to leave over night}
3) When ready to bake, take a piece of dough out at a time – leaving the rest in the the fridge. Knead the dough a bit, dust your work surface with some flour and roll it out until very thin – about 2mm.
4) Use cookie cutters to cut out different shapes, or {if you don’t have any} use a measuring cup or a glass. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
5) Preheat the oven to 200-225C and bake in center of oven for 4-5 minutes until golden brown – taking care not to leave them in for too long as they catch very easily.
6) 
Let cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack to leave to cool completely. Store the biscuits in an airtight tin.

Baked gingerbread biscuits

Saffron buns

Yesterday was Saint Lucia’s Day, a day that although it’s not a public holiday, is widely celebrated in Sweden as if it is. I did try to pen a description of what Lucia is {apart from a Sicilian saint}, but very quickly started stumbling as a lot of what I take for granted when it comes to this very traditional celebration, sounded somewhat ridiculous when writing it down. I will suffice to mention a few key points: white gowns, bearers of light, singing, saffron buns, star boys {see, this is where it starts sounding odd!!}

Instead, I leave you with this little tongue in cheek film which, although still making it sound somewhat ridiculous, makes a better attempt of describing how it’s celebrated in Sweden than my feeble endeavor – Lucia for Dummies

Swiftly moving on to my main reason for this post – Lussekatter, or saffron buns. The literal translation of the word is actually Lucia’s cats {hence my ramblings above}. I’m not entirely sure why they are called that, some sources seem to suggest it’s because the buns are shaped like cats, but to me the most traditional shape of the bun is more like an S than a cat. Either way, they are usually eaten around Christmas, and particularly Saint Lucia’s Day.

Baking saffron buns

I use quark in mine, which is supposed to keep them fresher and more succulent. Quark is a type of cheese, similar to cottage cheese, but comes ‘solid’ in a tub, unlike cottage cheese which has a broken up texture. It is usually found in the cheese isle in the supermarket. I’m not sure if it actually helps keeping them more succulent as I always put any that don’t get eaten straight away into the freezer once they have cooled, as I find that the best way of keeping them fresh. And they taste freshly baked if reheating them a little when taking them out of the freezer, which makes them all the more lovely! Shaping saffron buns

The most traditional shape of the buns is, as mentioned earlier, the S shape, decorated with raisins in the bend of each S. There are however a number of different other shapes, {of varying difficulty} that are common as well. I found a beautiful hand-drawn picture of some of them on this lovely blog – Receptfavoriter.

I have also been known to just roll the dough out and cutting different shapes out of it with a large cookie cutter, stars or hearts for example. Just mind the cooking time if you do, as the flatter dough tend to bake faster.Saffron buns proving

Lussekatter / Saffron buns

Ingredients
500 ml milk
1 g saffron
100 g butter
2 sachets of fast action dried yeast
250 g quark
150 ml sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1.5 liter flour

Decoration
raisins
1 egg

Method
1) Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the saffron strands. Warm until lukewarm
2) Melt the butter
3) Add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt to a mixing bowl, pour in the milk, butter and quark and knead the dough until smooth.
4) Cover the mixing bowl with a clean a tea towel and leave to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size. .
5) Preheat the oven to 225 °.
6) Put the dough onto a floured work surface and divide it into small pieces, shaping them into S shapes.
7) Place on baking trays, decorate with raisins and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
8) Brush with beaten egg then bake in middle of oven 5-8 minutes.
9) Let cool on a rack.

Saffron buns