We're taking a page from Scandinavian Gatherings, a new book by Melissa Bahen, a.k.a. Lulu the Baker. Bahen explores the region's seasonal entertaining traditions, including Lucia Day in Sweden.
On the thirteenth of December, when the days grow shorter and shorter, a celebration of light is most welcome. Cities and towns throughout Scandinavia (and American cities with large Scandinavian populations) hold Lucia festivals filled with music and candlelight. The main attraction is always the Lucia procession, featuring a girl clad in a long white gown with a red sash and wearing an evergreen crown with towering candles. In family celebrations at home, one of the daughters dresses up as Lucia and serves her family coffee, gingersnaps, and saffron buns before the sun rises. Lucia Day reminds us of light and generosity, even in the darkness of winter.
Lucia Day is traditionally a simple holiday. It isn't ever meant to compete with or overshadow Christmas. Fresh evergreen branches instead of flower arrangements make the house look and smell fantastic. Since the holiday is a celebration of light, clusters of glowing candles sit atop white tablecloths, and store-bought paper lanterns shaped like stars hang from windows and light fixtures.
For a casual Lucia Day celebration of your own, bake some pepparkakor — gingersnaps! — to serve with coffee and cider.
SUGARED GINGERSNAPS (SWEDISH PEPPARKAKOR)
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen gingersnaps
It's a good thing that both ginger and molasses have healthful properties, because these cookies are completely irresistible. They are deliciously crisp on the edges, with just a hint of chewiness in the middle. They have the perfect amount of warm spiciness without being harsh or hot. But my favorite thing about them is the crunchy coating of coarse sugar that makes them sparkle.
2 c. 1 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
10 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 c. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
Parchment paper for rolling and baking
2- to 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the molasses, eggs, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.
3. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients, beating until combined.
4. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Lay each portion of the dough on a piece of parchment paper generously sprinkled with flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with more flour, and cover it with another piece of parchment paper. Roll each ball of dough out between its two pieces of parchment paper, to a thickness of 1⁄4 inch. Stack both pieces of rolled dough on a baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets by lining them with clean parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
6. Remove one portion of chilled dough from the refrigerator and remove the top sheet of parchment paper. Cut out the cookies using a 2- to 2 1⁄2-inch round cookie cutter. Using a thin spatula, gently place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, leaving several inches between cookies. You can roll leftover dough scraps into a ball and roll them back out between floured parchment sheets as mentioned in step 4, and cut out more cookies. The dough softens very quickly and becomes hard to work with. If it gets too soft, put it back in the refrigerator until it firms up. Meanwhile, you can work with the other chilled portion of dough.
7. Sprinkle the cookies with the coarse sugar, and bake them for 10 minutes. When the cookies are done, they will be puffed and look dry; they will flatten as they cool.
8. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 2 to 3 minutes before placing the cookies on a cooling rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container. I think they are crispier and taste even better on day two!
Buy Scandinavian Gatherings, by Melissa Bahen.
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Reprinted with permission from Scandinavian Gatherings; From Afternoon Fika to Midsummer Feast: 70 Simple Recipes and Crafts for Everyday Celebrations. Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Bahen. Published by Sasquatch Books.