Here are some small spiced cookies to you must absolutely try! Paprenjaci (singular: paprenjak) have been transmitted through generations and are to this day a flagship recipe of the Croatian culinary tradition.
What are paprenjaci?
These are rectangular or square cookies that have traditional patterns. Also, paprenjaci contain two ingredients that distinguish them from other spiced cookies: honey and black pepper. It may sound strange but the presence of black pepper in this biscuit is a total unexpected success.
These cookies are usually prepared during the Christmas season in Croatia. Their particularity? The beautiful embossed patterns produced with the use of a traditional wooden mold. Etymologically, paprenjak means “black pepper biscuit”. Their name comes from the word papar which means pepper in Croatian.
The paprenjak is traditionally square or rectangular. However, the patterns may vary from one home to another. Also, those patterns are of pagan or Christian origin. Among the most ancestral patterns, fish, wheat ears and the sun are the most popular.
Today, there are several different shapes of paprenjak. However, the square and rectangular shapes remain. You can find them in different versions like a gingerbread man, stars and other forms. The Croatians are so proud of paprenjaci that Croatia Airlines distributes them on board its aircraft today. These biscuits are therefore a true symbol of Croatian identity.
What is the origin of paprenjaci?
The origin of these biscuits remains rather nebulous. Indeed, no one can say with certainty who the author of the recipe is, nor when they were created. However, they would have existed in the fifteenth century. According to other sources, they were created earlier in the fourteenth century.
One thing for sure is that paprenjaci bring the family together during the holidays. Mothers and grandmothers prepare the dough while the children are having fun cutting the cookie cutters.
The paprenjaci mold is also a remnant of the Croatian tradition. Produced by street vendors or cabinet makers, the wood carving work and the meticulousness required to create these wooden prints is impressive. Some locals even offer these molds as Christmas gifts, so much the work of the woodworker is remarkable and accurate. Also, the wooden molds created by the craftsmen are tailor-made, which explains why we find several kinds of paprenjaci and as many different patterns.
You must have a special wooden mold to prepare the paprenjaci. Generally, the cookie stamps that are commercially available cannot reproduce these embossed patterns that are so typical of paprenjaci because they sink into the biscuit when pressed. However, paprenjak molds produce a textured appearance by creating embossed patterns on the top of the biscuit through prints created by wooden molds. When pressed on the mold, the cookie dough fills the cavities of the wooden mold, thus creating the desired embossed pattern.
If you can not get these wooden molds, there are some artisans from Croatia, Hungary or Moldova who sell these traditional wooden molds on the Internet. These molds can easily be maintained and are easily removed from the biscuit dough. Also, these wooden molds are perfect as a Christmas present.
Variants of paprenjaci around the world
In Central Europe, you will find speculoos.
Speculaas or speculoos are cookies that are prepared for Saint Nicholas (6 December) in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. They are prepared for Christmas in Germany and Austria. They then take the name of Spekulatius.
These cookies contain a lot of spices that traditionally include cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom and nutmeg. Some recipes mention anise or pepper. Speculoos became popular between 1600 and 1700, during which time the Netherlands were actively trading spices. Also, they have a more granular texture than paprenjaci due to the presence of brown sugar.
In Scandinavia, there are several variants of paprenjaci:
In Sweden, these biscuits take the name pepparkakor. These are shortbread cookies with traditional Christmas spices. They are thinner biscuits that use ginger and black treacle in their recipe and sometimes black pepper. They are therefore darker than paprenjaci.
In Finland, they are called piparkakut. The recipe is identical to the Swedish cookies.
In Denmark, spice and ginger biscuits are found under the name of brunkage, a name that refers to their brown color, much darker than paprenjaci.
We hope you’ll love these pepper cookies and try them out soon.
- 3 cups flour sifted
- 4 oz. lard or butter
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 whole egg
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 cup ground walnuts
- ½ teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- ½ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg freshly ground
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 orange peel
- Add the flour into a large bowl.
- Add the caster sugar, ground walnuts, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, salt and orange peel, then mix.
- Add the lard (or butteand stir in with fingers until crumbly.
- Add 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks.
- Add the honey and mix well.
- Place the mixture on a flat surface and knead it quickly to form a ball.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator.
- Cut in half and roll on a floured surface to a thickness of ¼ inch.
- Using a wooden paprenjaci mold, make imprints on the dough and cut carefully.
- Place the paprenjaci on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake the biscuits for 25 minutes.
- Let them cool completely on a rack and transfer to an airtight container.
- Let them sit for two days before serving.
- They can be kept in a sealed metal or glass container for up to 6 weeks.