Christmas brings with it so many fond memories of my childhood. The way my Mum would start preparing Christmas dinner weeks in advance and up would go the tree and decorations all over the house. She is partial to a bit of fairy light love, every year her collection would grow until trees outside eventually started to light up in true Christmas spirit. Plates and plates of Finnish meat dishes were lovingly prepared along with hearty winter casseroles (remember, she is cooking as if in Finland in December, not Australia), salads with quirky dressings such as a pink mayonnaise coloured with beetroot, and then of course, the sweet stuff.
My favourite (no wait, they’re all my favourites), Finnish Christmas sweet treats are Piparkakut, or as we knew them as kids, Joulupiparit. Delicious little gingerbread biscuits with a spicy taste made into the shape of Christmas trees, gingerbread men, hearts and stars. I have memories of Mum standing over our dining table with her baking utensils scattered around either rolling Pulla, making the popular windmill shaped tarts called Joulutorttu or cutting out Christmas cookies. Such fond memories.
Our entire family still loves the Finnish Christmas dinner. It’s unique in that we only eat it at this time of year. With the exception of perhaps making a potato bake or macaroni bake throughout the year, the entire spread is mostly reserved for Christmas time. I have to say, no one but no one does Christmas like my Mum. In her later years my grandmother used to help Mum prepare the casseroles and bake some sweets, but Mum just knows how to pull a meal together with ease and finesse. The table would be decorated with the odd Finnish ornament; a red wooden elf or candles in red wooden candleholders, and even as an older kid the meal was as exciting as the present opening.
Traditionally Finnish folks celebrate on Christmas eve. We would have dinner at 6pm, then after cleaning the table (or as kids we’d rush through throwing plates into the kitchen speeding the ladies up with the washing so we could get onto the presents!) we would gather around the Christmas tree and hand out the gifts, the youngest of us wearing an elf hat and finding a spot to create a pile of presents that we drew out from under the tree that had our own name on it. I loved those moments.
There’s something so comforting about gingerbread. The aromatic spices combined with the molasses-y smell of golden syrup. When I started boiling the spices and golden syrup on the stove the kitchen was filled with the smell of my childhood, just delightful. I will never forget the taste of the biscuits and cakes my mum made when we were kids, but the smell is something that takes me back in an instant. Back to Mum in her apron, rolling pin in hand and delicious aromas spilling from the oven.
Mum’s recipe for this was pretty basic. Add this, and that, and a bit of this, boil, mix, then add this, roll, cut, bake. Usually I will call her and ask how long on this, or what should this texture look like, but this time I just went with my gut. And my nose. And memory.
Ingredients // makes 80-90 pieces (a few were eaten amid baking so I lost count)
¾ cup golden syrup
200g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon citrus peel (dried orange and lemon)
500g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoon bi-carb soda
Bring golden syrup, sugar, butter, spices and citrus peel to boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cool slightly and then beat with electric beater until lighter and paler in colour.
Beat in eggs one at the time.
Sift flour, salt and soda together, add to the mixture and bring together to form dough.
Wrap dough with glad wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
Next day: Preheat oven to 200C. Roll out dough as thin as possible on a floured surface. Using cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes. Place onto oven trays, brush with iced water and bake in oven until brown and slightly puffy (about 7-8 minutes).
I gather you can store these in an airtight container for a week or two but I doubt they’d last past a few days in our house. So good luck with that.