In Norway, the tradition of making pepperkaker dates back to the 15th century. Today, it remains one of the country’s most popular Christmas cookies. Pepperkaker, literally “pepper cookies” in English, are fragrant and wonderfully spiced, with a thin and crisp texture. Like most gingerbread recipes, the dough features a generous blend of warm spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. But the difference with pepperkaker, as its name implies, is the addition of freshly ground black pepper, which adds even more warmth and depth of flavor.
While some cut-out cookie doughs can be difficult to work with, pepperkaker dough is easy to make, pliable, and forgiving. I chill the dough overnight before rolling it out, which helps to hydrate the flour so that the dough won’t crack under my rolling pin. I roll the dough out until it is just about 1/8 inch thick, or even just a tad under, to get the cookie as crisp as possible.
Makes about 7 dozen medium-sized cookies
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup golden syrup (see Notes)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter, sugar, and golden syrup, stirring until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let mixture cool for 3 minutes. Add the heavy cream, spices, and black pepper; stir until fully incorporated.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt on low speed until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the warm butter mixture and beat for 30 seconds, then increase speed to medium-low and beat until the ingredients are fully incorporated and a dough forms, about 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky and firm; if the dough is too soft, beat in one additional tablespoon of flour until incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a ball and press into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
To bake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough until 1/8-inch thick, or even just under, being careful not to tear the dough. The thinner the dough, the crisper the cookie.
Dust a cookie cutter with flour and cut the dough into desired shapes. Transfer cutouts to the parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. To ensure the cookies hold their shape while baking, chill the cut cookies in the fridge or freezer for 5 to 7 minutes before baking.
Collect any dough scraps, form into a ball, press into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 15 minutes before rolling out again.
Working in single batches, place the baking sheet on the center oven rack and bake until the edges just start to turn golden-brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave cookies on the baking sheet until fully cool, then transfer to a wire rack.
Leftover dough may be refrigerated for up to 3 days before rolling out and baking.
Pepperkaker are perfect served plain or decorated with royal icing or a dusting of powdered sugar.
In lieu of golden syrup, substitute either 1/2 cup of light molasses or combine 1/4 cup each of light and dark corn syrup.
Pepperkaker are best stored in a metal tin, as plastic will cause them to soften. They will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, and even longer in the freezer.