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Christmas notes: pepparkakor

Pepparkakor are little Swedish ginger biscuits I only make, as other seasonal recipes, once or twice a year. I never quite recall the quantities that worked for me, the observations and alterations I made last time; I only have my most recent notepad with me.

So: I’m going to make notes up here as I go, for my own reference as much as anything. I’ve just arrived down in Sussex, so time to get some biscuit dough underway, as it’ll need a night in the fridge to develop and firm up.


I often find Swedish pepparkakor recipes a little under-spiced and under-sugared (trust me – I don’t have a sweet tooth). This is characteristic of Scandinavian baking, and mostly I find subtle sweetness vaery appealing. Here though I’m looking for little biccies that snap – and that means sugar. I want them to be toothsome rather than worthy, something to offset  a cup of strong coffee and morning blear.

In a saucepan I caramelise 3dl sugar with 1dl water. When just golden I stand back and add another 1dl water, which splutters volcanically as it solidifies and dissolves the caramel. Keep calm. I add 5oml golden syrup150g butter and allow it to melt over a gentle heat. Then, off the heat, spices: 1tsp ground cloves, 1tsp ground cardamom, 2tsp ground ginger, and 4tsp ground cinnamon or cassia (see note). The heat helps release the essential oils from the spices.

I add 2tsp salt and then 7 1/2dl flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder and mix. The texture should be smooth, and disconcertingly viscous. Once it’s had a night in the fridge, it’ll firm up and be ready to roll. More on which tomorrow!


  1. The “kanel malen” you buy in Sweden (or, as I do, at the fabulous Totally Swedish in Marylebone) is strictly ground cassia, not cinnamon. To me it tastes more deeply, ethereally fragrant than normal ground cinnamon. That’s not an affectation, honestly: the flavour is different, though I can’t deny, very evocative of Swedish holidays, childhood buns, so perhaps you wouldn’t mind so much.
  2. I think cinnamon/cassia more important to the flavour of pepparkakor than the peppery ginger that gives them their name – though it’s really the correct blend of spices, almost like a curry, that makes them individual.
  3. The Swedes insist on using volume rather than weight measurements for dry ingredients. It’s homey and convenient, though I worry not very accurate. Just use a measuring jug, and tap so that the flour/sugar settles. Never seems far wrong that way.
  4. 1dl=100ml.

pains aux raisins

It has taken me a long time to make pastries, danish pastires, I’m happy with; these I was. They turned out fluffy, puffy and flaky. They had a beguiling sweetness and richness, not overt, not bland; they had the vanilla fragrance and softness, the little caramel, fruity bite of raisins you look for. They were ethereal to eat with coffee and hot milk, the kind of fatty stodge that eats like a feather, and makes you want more.

This is the sort of recipe you need time to make. I don’t mean hours of labour, so much as hours of repose. You need time to rest, and let the dough rest. I went home last weekend because I was ill as ill, wheezing, eyes streaming, wanting a warm swaddle of familial sympathy, which I got. And I had time to bake and to read, to mill and listen to the radio. That’s when you make good pastries: when you’re not in a rush to.

Forgive the shoddy picture. I took it on my five year old Nokia brick and texted it to my email address…

The dough recipe is half of that detailed by Paul Hollywood in his new book How to Bake. Through lax measurement, or imperial conversion, I found the liquid content of the dough too high. It was: 8oz flour, 3tbsp water, 4oz milk, 2 1/2 oz sugar, tsp salt, 7g yeast, kneaded and beaten together until elastic. I had to add more flour, so perhaps next time, I’d hold on the water. The dough rests for an hour in the fridge. You beat with a rolling pin 4oz cold butter into a 4″x8″”panel in a little flour. Roll out the chilled dough to approx 4″x12″ rectangle. Place the butter across two-thirds of the rectangle, and fold the exposed third of dough down over the middle third, covering half the butter. Slice off the exposed panel of butter and place it on the middle third. Now you fold up the bottom third of dough and seal the edges. You have a package of butter and dough which goes: dough-butter-dough-butter-dough. Roll out to a rectangle 4″x12″ and fold like a business letter in thirds along the short side. This is a “single turn”, in the parlance. Chill for an hour, complete another “turn”, chill for an hour and complete another. Now chill the dough overnight.

When you take the dough from the fridge in the morning, it’s puffy and firm, and deeply satisfying to touch and work with. But you mustn’t touch it too much. Roll out to a square 12″x12″. Spread with a quantity of chilled, thick creme patissiere (see below), leaving a two inch gap at the bottom, which you brush with egg wash. Give the creme pat very light sprinkle of cinnamon and a generous helping of raisins. Roll up into a sausage, like a swiss roll, as tightly and neatly as you can muster, and seal along the eggwashed seam. Cut the sausage into 9-12 slices and leave to rise in a cool place for 2hrs. Bake at 200 for 20mins and glaze immediately with melted, seived apricot jam.

Creme patissiere: 1/2pt milk, 2oz sugar, 2/3oz cornflour, 1egg boiled together until very thick with a tsp vanilla extract and chilled until well gelled and firmly spreadable.

steamed treacle sponge, rhubarb, custard

scotch eggs


easter breakfast, simnel bun


hot cross buns

Good Friday means making hot cross buns. I love this sort of ritual food, the sort of thing you make inevitably, not just out of duty to the day or season, but because it’s good too, and you feel glad that there’s a time each year you’ll make and eat it. Ritual like this is so important to me, not really for the sake of tradition, but because it inscribes a taste for good things, makes you remember what’s well with the world.

Onto the bunnies. The ones at the back of the oven got a little dark – but so it goes, and really the recipe turned out well: sweet, light, egg-and-butter enriched dough and gentle Easter spice. Cinnamon, nutmeg and citrus, sparingly used, sing of Easter.

Plenty of good butter and a cup of a light, fragrant tea like darjeeling are imperative.

And – and! – they’re lmost more lovely toasted the next day.

Very lovely things.

I don’t normally write detailed recipes but I think with yeast and flour recipes it’s worth elaborating, because details make all the difference.

Hot cross buns

The basic dough is based on the one I use for Swedish cinnamon buns, but I feel there ought to be an egg in the mixture here, for a little extra richness and lift.

Dough: Strong white flour – 10oz; milk – 5oz; sugar – 2oz; butter – 2oz; egg – one; quick yeast – heaped tsp or standard sachet; salt – 1tsp; cinnamon – 1tsp; nutmeg – a quarter.

Crosses: Strong flour – a handful, perhaps 1-2oz; water – enough to make a paste; yeast – two-finger pinch; salt – pinch.

Filling: Raisins – handful; sultanas – handful; zest of an orange and a lemon.

Make the paste for the crosses: beat the ingredients into a paste you’ll be able to squeeze out of the cut corner of a freezer bag, or a piping bag.

Mix the dough. It’s a good idea to keep back a handful of the flour to incorporate during kneading so you don’t throw off the proportions. This dough needs to be, and will be, wet, so you have to persist in beating it with your hands like a brioche dough, and stretching it until it starts to shine and pull together. Perhaps 10 minutes of beating and stretching will do it. You might use a dough hook, but I don’t have one. Dust with of the rest of the flour, knead, shape into a tight ball and set to prove – overnight is good, and often convenient, in a cool place, or two or three hours in a warmer one.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle on a surface dusted very lightly with flour and zest the orange and lemon over evenly. Generously scatter with raisins and sultanas and roll up into a sausage. Divide into twelve equal pieces and shape them into buns. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment and set to rise in a warm place for 45mins. (I like to turn an oven on for a minute and turn it off again to make a warm, still place to prove and rise things.)

Once they’re puffy, turn on an oven to 200 degrees, and attend to your buns. Paint them with egg wash, and then pipe on crosses, keeping them as fine as poss. Slip them straight into the hot oven and bake for around 15 minutes, though they might need a little longer.

Glaze the hot buns very lightly with a simple sugar syrup made with equal quantities of sugar and water, heated until clear – perhaps a tablespoon of sugar and water will be enough. The buns should be deep gold, glossy, and smelling wonderfully of spice and zest.

orange salad

An orange salad is a brightening thing, a plate of citric sunshine for cold days. I often eat orange salads with salmon and fennel – either crisp mandoline slices of Florence fennel, or, when it feels right, braised half bulbs, or, more often, fennel chopped and cooked to a pulp with the seeds and a splash of booze. It’s the sort of food that cries out for Southern French rosé or light, herby red.

The flavours of all these things are superb together, somehow provencal, suggestively courtly (there’s a great Robert May recipe below circa 1660, which works a treat, pared back a bit*), even slightly christmassy, in the sense that there are oranges, wine and spice. I like food that makes you think of other places and times; it’s so transporting, and transporting is what I want and need in snowy mid-Feb.

Anyway, this made a lovely midweek supper. I sliced some leftover trimmings of fennel I cooked earlier in the week, when I’d used only the tender insides. I fried the slices in olive oil so they took a little colour, added salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seeds and a splash of Ricard, set it alight, and left to reduce into a sprightly aromatic stew, at a gentle heat. A squeeze of orange juice at the end, or lemon, brings the whole thing to life.

I love the process of skinning oranges – cutting off the two ends to reveal the triangular points of flesh, and, following the curve of the pith, cutting down, and around. You’re left with a juicy little barrel of orange, which you slice, exposing the interlocking triangles of flesh, susceptible to dressing. You strew them in one layer on a plate, trickle on plenty of olive oil and cast over some crunchy sea salt: you want it to dissolve in little points of savour, not to deliver overall saltiness, so not too much. I like to gather the remnants of orange skin and squeeze over any extra juice. It looks beautiful unadorned though for the flavour I like some little fronds of fennel herb – which are pretty too.

I fried some well-seasoned salmon gently in olive oil, spritzed with lemon and served it just as it was, with the orange salad and stew of fennel. The salt draws a good amount of juice from the oranges and makes the brightest of dressings, a sort of light sauce to spoon over salmon and fennel. This dressing, the warm fennel and slices of cool orange make a wonderful mess with neat flavours that set salmon off very nicely. Trout is good too.

*Otherways a most excellent way to stew Salmon.

Take a rand or jole of salmon, fry it whole raw, and being fryed, stew it in a dish on a chaffing dish of coals, with some claret-wine, large mace, slic’t nutmeg, salt, wine-vinegar, slic’t orange, and some sweet butter; being stewed and the sauce thick, dish it on sippets, lay the spices on it, and some slices of oranges, garnish the dish with some stale manchet finely searsed and strewed over all.

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1660