Mother’s butter gingerbread cookies
Each of us has our own favourite Christmas memories. For me, the best thing about waiting for the holiday was gingerbread cookies, which began with my mother buying treacle (a must!) and then making and kneading the dough, then rolling it out and baking the cookies together. I stood next to her at the table and begged her to let me roll out the dough. And she did. When the dough was rolled out, I could let my imagination run wild with the shapes. I loved, and I still love, the green, yellow, and white plastic cookie cutters. Some of them even were two-sided and back then I thought that was such a wonder. Even today, as I open the cookie cutter box, I go back in time, and even though there are so many new cookie cutters available, I always use my old ones. I often add honey to the dough, but I think that adding treacle makes the best dough – both in colour and also taste. Like those I remember from my childhood. That’s what smells like Christmas for me.
I do remember that butter was very expensive in those days. Not just expensive, but also hard to get. And then margarine appeared. The original recipe calls for (even in my mother’s notes) one or the other, but nothing, NOTHING, can compare to the taste and texture of butter that makes each mouthful so special. Here is my childhood gingerbread cookie recipe, but with more spices than in my mother’s version, and with butter. This time I used Grasbergs butter, which inspired me to pull out my mother’s old recipes and reread her holiday ones. And, as any good cookie dough recipe requires, the gingerbread dough should be made at least a few weeks before baking.
1–1.3 kg wheat flour
500 g white sugar
300 g butter
400 g honey or treacle (rose hip syrup)*
4 medium eggs, beaten with a fork
1/2 tsp baking soda
10 cardamom pods
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
20 grains allspice
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla powder
20 black peppercorns
2 oranges, zest grated finely
pinch of sea salt
Place all the spices in a mill and grind. Add to 500 g of flour.
Prepare the caramel in a pot on medium heat (but know that your smoke alarm may go off!). Pour the sugar in a pot with a heavy bottom and start heating on a low heat until it starts to melt. Then, slowly swirling the pot, let the melted sugar mix together with the unmelted sugar. Do not stir, just swirl the pot. Sugar crystals will start to form around the edges that can be cleaned off with a pastry brush dipped in boiling water. Swirl the pot occasionally all the sugar is melted. Then turn up the heat and boil until the caramel begins to smell like burnt sugar and gets very dark. That should take about 10‒15 minutes for one serving, but this is the process that determines the cookies’ crunchiness.
When the caramel is ready, add butter, and lifting the pot, swirl to stir. When the butter has almost melted, stir with a spoon. Add honey or syrup. Remove from the heat and add 500 g of the spiced flour to the hot mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Heat on a low heat for about 2 minutes, until the dough starts to separate from the edge of the pot. Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes.
Add the beaten eggs and baking soda. When the eggs are incorporated, add another 500 g flour and mix until the dough is uniform and smooth. Add more flour, but only if needed to get a smooth dough.
Let stand in the fridge for at least on day, but a few weeks is better. Take the dough 4 h before baking. Roll out the dough as thinly as you can, press out the cookie shapes, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°.
* If possible, use rosehip syrup or treacle for the taste and colour.
Recipe and pictures: Signe Meirane
Camera: Sony Alpha 7s