December 7th – ADVENT BLOGGING

December 7th

There is something about baking Christmas cookies that evokes the spirit of the season.  Even people who despise baking at other times of the year, make an exception at the holidays.  Maybe it’s the spicy, comforting smell of ginger and cinnamon and nutmeg that fills the kitchen.  Maybe it’s the sheer joy of using an old metal cookie cutter in the shape of a reindeer.  What makes me haul out the rolling pin and buy a bulging sack of flour every year, is the memory of my grandmother and the Swedish heritage she embraced.

I remember childhood Christmas Eves at my grandmother and grandfather’s house.  We always celebrated on the Eve before Christmas, a tradition in Scandinavian countries.  My grandmother was born in the United States, but her parents immigrated here and so her Swedish roots and the traditions that came with them were strong.  In Sweden, Santa (Tomte) arrives on Christmas Eve and that is when all the children open their gifts.

My grandmother always prepared a huge Swedish smorgasbord of baked ham, creamy scalloped potatoes, brown sugar coated baked beans, Swedish meatballs smothered in gravy,  pickled herring (not my favorite), hard tack, and mouth watering biscuits made mostly of butter. 

And cookies.

Lots of cookies.

As a child, it was always hard to wait until after dinner to dive into the cookie platter. Sometimes if I looked longingly enough at it, my grandmother would slip a cookie into my hand before dinner as a special treat.

My grandmother’s skill at baking was revealed in the volume and diversity of the cookies she baked:  chewy brown drop cookies stuffed with raisins; sweet rich butterscotch bars; gingersnaps that snapped like firecrackers when I took a bite; buttery Swedish Spritz cookies; wobbly topped gelatin puffs; sticky church windows made with tiny white marshmallows and chocolate chips; and finally the pepparkakors, my favorites and the ones I bake each year no matter how stretched for time I am.  When done right they are delicate, crunchy cookies that fill your mouth with the taste of molasses and ginger.  They are excellent with a good cup of herbal tea, although I have been known to eat half a dozen in one sitting, all by themselves.  Each year I contemplate not making them, and then I banish the thought.

As the days grow longer and the mornings greet me with a film of frost on the ground, I know it is time to roll up my sleeves and dig out the smeared three by five recipe card with my grandmother’s beautiful script on it. The pepparkakors require a day’s preparation, a night of letting the dough rest and then a morning of rolling, cutting and baking.  I use my ancient metal cookie cutters.  I make sure to roll the dough as thin as I can for the best possible result.  And when the first batch comes out of the oven, I imagine that my grandmother is smiling. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine (in a 3 quart saucepan):
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter (cut into small pieces so it will melt faster)
½ cup molasses
1/3  cup water

Heat ingredients to luke warm, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and continue to stir until all the butter is melted and incorporated.

Sift together:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Ginger
¼ tsp. Ground cloves

Add the dry ingredients gradually to the cooled sugar mixture, blend well.
Beat thoroughly.
Cover and chill overnight (or up to 1 week).

The next day:

Divide dough into quarters.  Work one quarter of the dough at a time, keeping the remainder refrigerated until ready to work (**if you neglect to do this, you will find the dough that is waiting to be worked becomes sticky and impossible to roll out).

Place dough on a well floured surface and knead 10 strokes.

Coat dough with flour and roll out to 1/16th thickness (**the thinner you roll the dough, the crispier the cookies will be).

Cut out cookies using various shaped cookie cutters (**you can re-roll the scraps of dough several times before it becomes too sticky to work with).

Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes.

Cookies are done when they are lightly browned.  They will puff up a little.  Place them on a rake to cool.

Repeat all steps with remaining ¾ of dough (a quarter at a time).

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    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 00:12

    Such happy memories! I was always told to stay out of the kitchen when the cookies were being baked this time of year, and so I never developed the love for baking even this time of year. I sure do love to eat Christmas cookies though!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 03:57

    I don’t think that Christmas cookies have really been part of our Christmas celebrations. I do love reading about everyone elses though!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 04:28

    Wendy – Thank you – I could almost smell the cloves and cinnamon! I am going to try these out for my sweet toothed husband. Many joyful season’s greetings to you from across the pond for a joyful and peaceful Christmas.
    Your Swedish memory post has revived one of my childhood memories …. when I was a little girl my parents took me to France on the Townsend Thoresen ferries from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Being a Scandinavain company there was always a very smart smorgasbord which I delighted in! Lots of delicious smoked fish and hors d’oeuvres – my favourites.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 06:05

    Wendy, wonderful post! And the similarities … well, what can I say?! Is that a childhood picture of you? Thanks for sharing your heritage with everyone!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 06:29

    I love the pictures you posted. The first one reminded me of a cartoon I used to watch at Christmas…actually I found a video on youtube!the song is in italian but the cartoon is japanese:
    anyone remembers it?
    Christmas in Sweden must be really special, I mean, so close to Santa!!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 08:16

    Yum! All this talk of homemade cookies is making me hungry!
    I love that so many of us embrace family traditions from those who came before us. I hope that I, in all the little things I like to do for holidays, am making memories that my child will pass on to her kids.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 10:19

    In Portugal, like in Sweden, Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas day itself, and it is then that people open their presents.
    Those cookies sound delicious! I’d love to try the recipe, but it sounds beyond my very modest baking abilities. Perhaps I can pass it along to someone more talented, though.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 10:36

    Thank you all for dropping in and leaving a comment!
    WendyCat: The best part if the eating – so you aren’t really missing anything *smiles*
    Nymeth: These aren’t that hard – I bet you could make them (they really just take a lot of time, but not a lot of skill!)
    Carl: I love how traditions evolve from generation to generation – and I bet someday your kids will be sharing these same kind of childhood memories!
    Valentina: Wow, what a great clip. It looks very Scandinavian to me! Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Marg: You could always start a new tradition – cookies anyone!??! *laughs*
    Juliette: The Smorgasbord is THE BEST and I’m glad you got to experience one. And joyful season’s greetings right back to you!
    Laura: That is actually one of my youngest nieces several years ago – everyone says she looks like me when I was younger 🙂

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 11:01

    Wow, gettitng all these recipes from everyone is so fun! And hearing about traditions from different countries! I love it!
    Thanks for a great advent post!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 12:59

    Thanks for the cookie recipe! I cannot WAIT to bake to my hearts content today… YUM! Visions of sweet cookies fresh from the oven DANCE in my head!
    Happy Holidays!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 15:35

    Hi – I’ve popped over from Kailana’s blog.
    ‘It is time to…dig out the smeared three by five recipe card with my grandmother’s beautiful script on it.’ I can see it now! What a beautiful image. Christmas cookies have always been a big part of our Christmas, too. When I was in junior high and high school, the Christmas cookie decorating turned into a party. We’ve never really given that up, and I’m 43.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 15:39

    Merry Christmas and thanks for the lovely post. I thought the picture may have been a younger you, but I see it’s not. I love her candle hat.
    The cookies sound delicious too.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 16:15

    A lovely post. I love when people reminisce about their childhood. 🙂 I agree: Christmas time is a cookie time of year. When I told my girls I wasn’t going to bake cookies this year (I’m doing candy instead) and I got an “Aw, MOM, please?” So I’m making one batch special for them.

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 17:36

    This was a wonderful post, Wendy. I can bet that your grandmother is smiling as you preserve your family’s traditions. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!
    =) Jill (mrstreme)

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 18:13

    Wow it sure is great to receive all these comments!
    Suey: I like reading about traditions from other countries too!
    Amy: Happy Holidays to you as well – I hope your cookies turn out WONDERFUL!
    Julia: Glad you enjoyed the imagery of my post 🙂 You’re never too old for cookies!
    Raidergirl: Merry Christmas to you too! The “candle hat” is very traditional in Sweden.
    Melissa: Your girls are lucky to have such a devoted mom 🙂
    Jill: Merry Christmas to you as well! And thank you!!

    • Anonymous on December 7, 2007 at 18:21

    Those cookies sound so wonderful, and I love that candle hat…so wonderfully Swedish. What fun your post was.

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2007 at 00:41

    Your amazingly accurate and detailed memories brought tears to my eyes…it’s as I remember it too. What is it about holidays – especially Christmas – that evokes such vivid and wonderful feelings of family, of heritage and our connections to all those generations that have passed down our treasured traditions….let the baking begin! Lots of hugs and molassas coming your way, Paula

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2007 at 11:40

    Good lord, someone could get very fat off of this calendar and all the tempting recipies!

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2007 at 11:44

    Carolyn Jean: Thank you for your kind words!
    Paula: *hugs* back big sister 🙂
    Kailana: I’m loosening my jeans as we speak 🙂

    • Anonymous on December 9, 2007 at 16:24

    I have Swedish heritage, too – but my ancestors have been in the states for several generations. I checked out a library book about Swedish Christmas customs and read about celebrating the light at the darkest time of year. They called it something that I couldn’t pronounce and I didn’t write it down so I can’t spell it for you either. My family celebrates it and call it who-goo-ly. Does any of that sound familiar to you? I would love to know the real word for it.
    Seasons Greetings, Wendy. Thanks for sharing your Swedish traditions.

    • Anonymous on December 10, 2007 at 10:31

    I don’t know the name of it either – but I’ve heard of it! The days of winter are very short in Sweden and so light is especially important at that time of the year. One of the things they do is use pastels a lot on the walls of their homes and buildings (I noticed this on a trip to Sweden many years ago!). White lights are used almost exclusively for decoration at Christmas.

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