Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Piparkukas - Latvian Pepper Cookies

As a child, Christmas meant piragi and piparkukas. Piparkukas translates from the Latvian as 'pepper cookies'. They don't contain pepper, but are fantastic, lightly spiced biscuits. Brilliantly easy to make as the dough is very difficult to overwork and actually responds well to being a little warm. Great for kids to make with a little supervision.

I am sure that this recipe is probably not entirely authentic, but it works well and turns out something that is very similar to what my Granny makes. The quantities quoted below makes  approximately two dozen small biscuits. Feel free to up the quantities and keep the dough (well wrapped) in the fridge. It will last about a week. One Latvian recipe I found gives you the quantities for seven pounds of dough...so evidently you can't make too much! Bring up to room temperature before rolling out or you'll be cursing it.

100g golden syrup
100g dark brown soft sugar
100g butter (or if you want to be authentic, 50g butter and 50g lard)
2 egg yolks
350g plain flour
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
Zest of one lemon

Melt the syrup and butter and stir in the spices. Put this into a large bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients until you have a fairly stiff dough. I actually do this using the dough hook in my Kenwood Chef, but it is relatively easy to bring together by hand, and as I've said, pretty difficult to overwork.

The dough is much easier to work with whilst it is slightly warm, which it will be at this point. Lightly flour your work surface, take a workable amount of dough, and roll it out to about 3mm. Cut out your preferred shapes using a cutter. Smaller shapes always seems to work well, and you don't want anything too fiddly as the dough is so thin.

Lift the shapes on to a baking sheet using your fingers or a palette knife. They don't spread at all when baking so you can put them quite close together. If you want a luxurious finish you can glaze them at this point using egg white whisked with a teaspoon of sugar. I tend not to bother...if you do, be sparing as you don't want to weld them to the tray. Gather together the remaining dough and re roll.

I cook these for about 4 - 5 minutes in an 180 degree centigrade oven, but this is something you will need to experiment with as it will depend on your oven. It can take as little as 3 minutes and they can catch quite easily. You're looking for a biscuit with a good snap once cooled. 

The biscuits keep well (as long as you don't tell anyone you've made them). You can of course ice them if you choose, and you can also punch holes in them before baking and then hang them as Christmas tree decorations.