Norwegian Black Pepper & Almond Shortbread

A hamper of sweet, peppered joy that sings of Norwegian fjords.

When I was a kid, my dad took me to visit my family in Norway. We stayed on their farm outside Kristiansand, the mouth of the gorgeous world-renowned fjords. It was like nothing I'd experienced before. We'd go for walks through towering forests - I'd never seen an actual forest before! I discovered a lot of nature: how to fish for crabs; how to set traps for wild animals; even how to hunt deer!

Anyways, aside from all of the fresh air, I discovered a lot of really cool food there. Of all things, Norway is where I discovered mayonnaise for the very first time! Mayonnaise was sold in toothpaste tubes, which made it even more fun to eat, kinda like Frubes, but for fat kids! Besides that, I also remember eating these tasty, buttery cookies. They tasted kinda spicy, and I remember being told afterwards that they had pepper in them! As a little kid, that blew my mind. That was the first time I'd seen the boundaries blurred between the worlds of sweet and savoury. It felt kinda naughty, but I've gotten pretty comfortable with the idea ever since!

These cookies, which I found out were called 'Pepperkaker' in Norwegian, turn out to be a true Scandinavian taste. In Norway and Sweden, they use pepper just like we might use ginger: for it's warming, tingling heat - exactly what you need for their cold, dark winters. Pepperkaker also use cardamom seed, which is a major flavouring in Scandinavian cooking. You'd never think so. You'd probably associate cardamon with Indian food, but in fact, Scandinavia takes up half of the world's demand for cardamom!

These cookies are hearty, buttery, crunchy and have one hell of an aromatic attitude. They're like nothing you will have tasted - harmonious and summery, yet tinglingly spicy and warming. They're a pleasure to eat in summer as they would be in winter. Best of both worlds if you ask me, and what's more: they make your house smell fucking incredible when they're in the oven!

Anyways, I'll quit yapping now! Grab your oven-mitts and come with me...

What You'll Need:
(for 20 aromatic, Nordic shortbread cookies)

150g Butter (NOT margarine)
60g White Sugar
150g Plain Flour
50g Ground Almonds
1/2 teaspoon of Ground Cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of freshly-crushed Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Lemon Zest

1. First we need to cream together our butter and sugar.

Weigh out your butter and sugar, and churn them together with a study spoon until you have a thick, buttercup cream.

2. Now that our fat and sugar is sorted out (the finest things in life!), it's time to flavour it!

Add your ground cardamom to your mixture. You can buy cardamom that has been already ground, but I only had pods. If you can only get your hands on pods, simply burst the shell open and shake out the little black grains, and discard the shell. The little black grains are your cardamom!

Add your crushed black pepper.

Add a pinch of lemon zest (add as much as you like - it's to taste.)

And finally, add your vanilla!

Mix everything until your flavours are evenly dispersed.

3. Next, add your ground almonds, and mix until you have a slightly thicker paste.

4. Now weigh out your flour, and add it to your mixture.

Mix well until you end up with a single ball of soft, moist dough.

5. Tip your dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gently spread it with your hands.

Once it's reasonably flat, softly run a rolling pin over it until it flattens to roughly 1cm thick.

Take a sharp knife (a one without teeth is best, as it will tug at the dough) and cut a few lines into your shortbread, so you can get an idea of how many units you will get.

You can cut them into bars, or into rounds with a biscuit cutter - it's totally up to you and your imagination!

6. Place your dough shapes on a greaseproof baking tray, about 1-2cm apart.

Pop your tray of shortbread dough into the fridge for 30 minutes, so they can firm up before baking. You can preheat your oven in the meantime to 180C/350F.

7. After 30 minutes, take your shortbread dough out of the fridge, and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

Absolutely don't worry if they're still a little soft in the centre - they will firm up as they cool down.

8. And you're done! You can eat them plain straight away (they're GORGEOUS when they're still buzzing from the oven!)

I personally decorated mine with a smattering of wet icing and a few flaked almonds glued onto them.

During Christmas in Scandinavia, they tend to pipe fine, sophisticated icing patterns onto their cookies, which you can totally try your hand at but...

Life is just too short, especially when warm shortbread is concerned!


Thanks for reading,

Anthony :)



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