Black Pepper Cookies

a sheet of raw black pepper cookie dough with shapes--men, stars reindeer, hearts--cut into it

If you know Astrid Lindgren’s world-famous children’s books, you will recognize these Swedish cookies known as pepparkakor, which actually contain black pepper. The lovely crispy and spicy cookies are cut out of a thin layer of dough and then decorated with royal icing. The cookie cutters in Scandinavia are in the shape of men and women, the mythical creatures Nisse or Tomte–pigs, reindeer, and the only really scary animal in Nordic Christmas lore, the horned billy goat. Hearts, stars, and bells are popular shapes, too. The dough is very easy to make, and can also be shaped into pebernødder (“pepper nuts”), small, round, crispy cookies the size of a hazelnut. They are always extremely popular with children, and easy to shape even for a two-year-old. The traditional way to decorate them is to frame the cookie with icing, make buttons, shoes, and so on, or to write the family’s names on heart-shaped cookies and hang them in the windows on red ribbons.–Camilla Plum

LC Um, Pepper Cookies? Note

No single ingredient or title can do justice to these lovely, crisp, slightly spicy cookies that also contain cinnamon and cardamom and cocoa and ginger to mitigate pepper’s pungent warmth. Quite simply, you must try them. Photo: Janet Stein.
Four Swedish black pepper cookies called pepperkakor cut into Eiffel Tower shapes and decorated

Black Pepper Cookies

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 35 M
  • 50 M
  • Makes many, many cookies!
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handheld electric mixer. Stir in the cream, then the rest of the ingredients except the flour. Add the flour and stir just until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface, then shape it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator until the next day.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (176°C).

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a very thin sheet (1/8-inch thick is fine) and cut it into shapes. If any cookies are destined for hanging on the tree, pierce holes in the top of the cookies using the tip of a wooden skewer. Arrange the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Reroll the dough until the last scrap is used. Bake in the oven until golden at the edges, about 12 minutes; a little less if chewy cookies are desired, a little more if crisp cookies are preferred.

Decorate with royal icing. The traditional way is to frame the cookie, make buttons, shoes, and so on, and to write the family’s names on heart-shaped cookies and hang them in the windows on red ribbons. Store the cookies in airtight tins for up to several weeks (yes, you read correctly, weeks!).

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

I was a little afraid of this recipe, having not tried to rival my Swedish mother’s “Pepparkakor,” or gingerbread cookies, prior to this baking. I’m happy to report the cookies were a terrifically successful variation on this Swedish classic. Both the taste and the aftertaste have a nice spicy tone. I missed the cloves of my mother’s version just a bit, but liked the inclusion of black pepper and cocoa powder. The dough came together with ease. After chilling, I found I needed to bring the temperature up a bit to avoid cracking while I rolled it out, but once it was a bit warmer, it was easy to work with. I baked for 10 to 12 minutes and flipped the trays halfway. Bake only until there is just the smallest amount of golden brown visible: these cookies are not intended to be browned like butter cookies. For a slightly less crisp cookie, I think a minute or so less baking would still provide authentic texture, without veering toward crunchy. Although the gingerbread cookies of my childhood were thinner and more delicate than these, the sturdiness is a positive feature, allowing complicated shapes to be made without undue fear of breakage. And they could potentially also travel well, a real plus for the winter holiday season.

For extra-precision, especially with detailed shapes, it’s a good idea to place the cookie sheet in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes, and then place it directly in the oven; the cookies will retain their shape better this way. This is a great cookie to pierce and hang, as described, since it is sturdy enough to hold up to treatment as a decoration. I would never ice a gingerbread cookie, but I will decorate a bit with currants or almonds when I roll out and bake the rest of the dough.

The dough is a long-term keeper: simply wrap well (I use a double layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil) and refrigerate. Then remove when ready to bake a tray or two — or more! This recipe will make a lot of cookies: how many depends on the size of the cutters used. The dough scraps can be re-rolled over and over again until they are no longer rollable. In the case of my test recipe, I re-rolled one piece of dough four times with success and only stopped re-rolling it because the scraps became too small. Not only will the dough keep well, but the baked cookies will also keep well. I remember my mother baking gingerbread cookies among the first batches of the holiday season, then storing the cookies in very tightly sealed cookie tins. In the unlikely case there are any left over when ringing in the New Year, they will still be fresh and tasty if carefully stored. And, though Americans see these cookies nearly exclusively as a holiday treat, they are not only a Swedish classic but also a Swedish standby. My mother used them as her year-round go to, in the same way Americans might make sugar or butter cookies, or chocolate chips. In Sweden, while the shapes might change seasonally, gingerbread cookies are never out of season. I needn’t have feared this recipe. Quite the contrary, it brought back lots of terrific childhood memories — memories of my kitchen and my mother and lots of lots of holiday festivities and Swedish traditions, all floating through my mind as the lovely aroma wafted through my kitchen.

These are excellent all-around spice cookies. The pepper gives them just enough kick, but not so much that my (fairly picky) toddler would reject them. The cookies are crisp and sturdy enough to be mailed or made into ornaments, and they keep very well. A note on the color: owing to the cocoa powder I used, my cookie dough was quite dark, and the baked cookies were almost a mahogany color. I settled on a 12-minute baking time. The yield is indeed a lot. Half of the recipe yielded seven dozen 2 1/2″ round cookies, including rerolled scraps.

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  1. The name of the cookie is “Pepparkakor” and not “Pepperkakor”. Pepper is not a Swedish word, but “peppar” translates to “pepper” in English. And I cannot name one sane Swedish person that actually has black pepper in their gingerbreads. Get your facts straight God damn it.

    1. Thanks for the typo correction, Jonathan. It’s been fixed. The cookie is from a Danish chef, and she puts pepper in her gingerbread, so she’s not Swedish. As to her sanity, if her recipes are any indication, she’s off her rocker with creativity!

  2. Love this recipe! Generally I have a slight apprehension about roll out cookie recipes …. having had some epic, sticky fails. But this one was perfect! The dough smells incredible and rolls out like a dream. And the spicy, warm, kinda gingerbread-y flavor reminds me so much of my time spent traveling in Sweden. This one is a keeper. God Jul!

    Four Swedish black pepper cookies called pepperkakor decorated with snowflake and tree icing designs

    Four Swedish black pepper cookies called pepperkakor cut into Eiffel Tower shapes and decorated

    1. Janet, I love, love love your photo. And those stencils. For the good of mankind and the prospect of a peaceful and loving Christmas, do tell how you made them.

      1. With pleasure…. the snowflake stencils are old Martha Stewart Crafts cupcake stencils (not sure they are made any longer….. but did a quick search and found similar ones on eBay). The tree is a custom stencil I got on Etsy. And the Royal icing is from this recipe – I just made it extra thick and applied it with an offset spatula. And lots of patience. Xx

  3. Came upon this black pepper cookie by accident this morning. I have been looking for it for years. My grandma use to make them and now I get to surprise my sister. THANK YOU.

  4. I made these after viewing the Christmas cookie slideshow. Really straightforward to make and very moorish. I used golden syrup instead of corn syrup as I’m in the UK. Rested the dough in the fridge for 2 hours and followed the advice in the comments about letting it warm up a bit and cooking times. Then iced them with simple outlines in icing using an eggless icing. (Icing sugar, milk, and syrup.) I made a half quantity of dough and put half of that in the fridge so the remainder made about 43 cookies of various sizes and shapes. The pistachio shortbread and wheat free butter cookies are now calling out to be tried!

  5. Holla, Leite’s! I really thought I’d made these before with some success, but today’s efforts have me thinking that either I really messed something up today or I misremembered which recipe I’ve used to make pepper cookies in the past. I used less flour than the recipe called for, but even then, I had no luck getting it to stick together–it was very very crumbly. Since this is otherwise a very buttery cookie, I used the Cook’s Illustrated “vodka pie crust” technique (in CI’s piecrust recipe, you use vodka instead of water–it evaporates out of the crust while baking because of its lower boiling point) and got the dough to stick. It is now resting in the fridge so I’m hoping the vodka did the trick. Also, call me traditionalist, but this recipe has no salt! I like a little salt in my cookies (actually, I like a lot–addicted to these: so I added a pinch, but unfortunately didn’t notice the omission until the flour had been added, so these will probably turn out a little tougher than they would have otherwise. But with the salt in, the dough (which I can eat unlimited amounts of, because no raw eggs!) tastes the way I think it “should”, which gives me high hopes for the finished product. will come back and let everyone know how it went!

    1. So, the update is….the cookies came out great! They were a little tougher than I’d hoped for, probably a combination of 1) the extra mixing I did to throw in the last-minute salt and 2) the fact that these are supposed to be tough, in order to hang them on the Christmas tree without breakage. The flavor, however, was perfect and everyone loved eating them.

      If you like your cookies to have some crunch to them, make these. And add some salt. 🙂

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