Birgit Johnson was born in Sweden and after graduating from nursing school there, she came to the United States for twelve months. Those months stretched to about 42 years. Johnson raised her two children in Bloomington, Minn., and now uses family cookies to lure her two grandchildren to her house at Christmastime.
Johnson is the baker of a certain sort of “pepparkakor,” a Swedish ginger cookie, one that she has enhanced with orange zest.
"This superthin spice cookie is the Swedish national cookie," Johnson says. "I make 10 times more than I think we can eat, but it is never enough. I can’t wait until my grandchildren are old enough to use the cookie cutters — and neither can they."
These cookies are not traditionally decorated, but at Christmas little gingerbread boys are sometimes decorated with white icing.
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
2/3 cup salted butter
1 large egg
Grated zest of one orange
5 cups all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a pan over medium heat, combine the sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and bring just to a simmer.
2. In a large bowl, combine the warm sugar mixture and the butter and stir until the butter melts. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the orange zest. Stir in the flour a cup at a time, stirring just until combined.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for 2 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
4. Grease several baking sheets and set aside. Form half the dough into a ball and place it on a lightly floured surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a thickness of no more than 1/6 inch. Cut out cookies with cookie cutters (stars, hearts, and little gingerbread boys are the most traditional) and then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, leaving an inch between each cookie.
5. Bake until firm and dried, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies immediately to a rack to cool.
Yield: Makes about 100 cookies.