The noise of the wind and rain pounding on my window wakes me up, making me more and more aware of the cold winter that's outside. It's still dark outside. I am glad I am under a thick blanket. It's one of my favourite feelings in the world. Slowly, I stretch and realise just how cold it is outside. Outside my bed. My comfort. My shelter. I can't really convince myself to get up. I don't want to. It's my day off. Christmas this year has arrived too quickly, I've decided. I began freezing back in October. The trains were constantly delayed by mid-November. The snowstorms came and went. And my exams are approaching with unreasonable haste. This isn't healthy.
This year has been particulary busy, and although things have slowed down a little bit, it's still quite hectic. Today it's the 15th December. Only two more days until vacation. *Must get out of bed.* I really do have a love/hate relationship with December. I hate: a) how it makes me stressed, b) the commercial Santa Claus' everywhere c) all the exams and homework and d) the freezing wind against my forehead. I love: a) the Christmas atmosphere, b) the adorable nissar and reindeer decorations, c) baking Christmas cookies, d) Christmas traditions and e) vacation.
For me, the best Christmas traditions occur in the days prior to the 24th December. In those days, it's all about baking, being creative and thinking of other people. Which is what I'm trying to do today, if I can convince myself to get out of my bed, and away from my warm cover.
I'm up. I have things to bake. I have cookies to decorate. I have to try the eight new cookies cutters I've invested in.Still in my pajamas, I head upstairs to the kitchen. I need coffee. I need the warmth of the kitchen. I need to start baking gingerbread cookies.Gingerbread cookies is another Christmas tradition I absolutely love. Christmas isn't Christmas sans les gingerbread cookies. Or Lebkuchen, as it's actually called. Or Pfefferkuchen. Or Peparkaker, as I call it in Norwegian.This is German baking at its best.
Whilst I'm sipping my coffee, let me take you through the history of peparkaker: Lebkuchen was invented by Medieval monks in Franconia, Germany (aka. parts of Bavaria, Thüringen and Baden-Wüttenburg), in the 13th century. Monks seem to have invented most of the German cuisine (Brezel, Lebkuchen etc.) Why? I don't know. Perhaps they had a lot of time on their hands. Or they had cold beds with bad blankets, meaning they didn't mind getting up the morning, in contrary to myself, with my warm bed and thick duvet cover. Or they had the German discipline I sometimes lack. Whatever it was, I'm forever grateful. Anyways, Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm, and in 1395 in Nürnberg. Lebkuchen is also known as Honigkuchen (honey cake) or Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake, hence the Norwegian name), depending on difference in the ingredients.
In fact, I shouldn't call pepperkakar gingerbread at all, but gingerbread biscuits. As I have mentioned, peparkaker derive from their German cousins Pfefferkuchen. They are thin, very brittle biscuits in different shapes; traditionally a man, woman, heart and pig. Why these particular shapes, you may ask? I'll tell you. I don't know. No matter. The gingerbread cookies in England and the United States, however, derive from the French pain d'épices. Pain d'épices was brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk (!) Gregory of Nicopolis, who moved to France, teaching French priests and Christians how to bake. The French later developed it into the current gingerbread.
So, basically, in Germanic-speaking areas (except Great Britain), we bake German-styled gingerbread biscuits, and in Latin-speaking areas (including Anglophone countries), they bake French-styled gingerbread. Either way, they all derive from the Franks (hence France and Franconia.)Enough history. My coffee has been delightfully consumed. I'm very glad I woke up now. I love to bake and decorate gingerbread biscuits. The house smells good of baking and spices. Although I'm a fan of ginger year-round, I find no other flavor as evocative of Christmas.This recipe comes from my mum, and it's quite big. I also want to note that I have never tasted better gingerbread biscuits in the world. Just thought you should know.
½ litre sugar
1 ½ dl water
¾ dl syrup
1 tbsp cinnamon
½ tbsp powdered clove
1 tbsp ginger
250 g. butter
1 tbsp baking soda
1 ½ litre flour, plus more for dusting
1.Mix and warm the sugar, water, syrup, cinnamon, clove and ginger together, in a large cassarole over heat. Take the cassarolle off the heat. Add butter and blend together until dough is chilled. Preheat oven to 165°C.
2.Add the baking soda*, along with 1 tbsp tepid water and pour into dough. Finally, add the flour and work into the dough. If sticky, simply add more flour.
3.Cut them into shape of choice and place on baking sheets lined with baking paper. Place in oven until nice and brown.
*Best add the baking soda whilst the dough is still warm enough for you to see the chemical reaction. This makes the peparkaker softer.