Here are some small must try spiced cookies. The paprenjaci (singular paprenjak) have been transmitted through generations and are to this day a staple of the Croatian culinary tradition.
What is a paprenjak?
These are rectangular or square cookies that have typical traditional patterns. In addition, 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 success.
These cookies are usually prepared during the Christmas season in Croatia. Their particularity? The beautiful embossed patterns produced following the use of a traditional wooden mold. Etymologically, paprenjak means “black pepper biscuit”. They derive their name from the word papar, which means pepper in Croatian.
The paprenjak is traditionally square or rectangular. However, the patterns may vary from one house to another. Also, the patterns that one draws on the biscuits 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 forms of paprenjak. However, the square and rectangular shape remain the most popular. You can find them in different versions like gingerbread men, stars and other forms. The Croatians are so proud of them that Croatia Airlines distributes paprenjaci 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 created the recipe and where they were created. However, they would have existed in the fifteenth century at the Renaissance. 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 take care of preparing the dough while the children are having fun cutting them with 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.
In addition, the wooden molds created by the craftsmen are tailor-made, which explains why you will find several kinds of paprenjaci and as many different patterns.
You must use a special wooden mold to prepare the paprenjaci. Generally, the cookie pads that are commercially available do not succeed in reproducing these embossed patterns so typical of paprenjaci because they sink into the biscuit when pressed.
However, paprenjak molds produce a textured appearance by creating an embossed pattern on the top of the biscuit. When pressed on the mold, the cookie dough is lodged in the cavities of the wooden mold, and it is this which produces the desired embossing effect.
If you can not get these wooden prints, there are some ordinary artisans from Croatia, Hungary or Moldova who sell these traditional wooden molds on the Internet. These molds can be kept very well and are easily removed from the cookie dough. Also, these wooden molds are perfect for 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 being prepared for Christmas in Germany and Austria. They then take the name of Spekulatius.
These cookies contain a lot of spices that are traditionally cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom and nutmeg. Some recipes mention anise or pepper. Speculoos spread between 1600 and 1700, during which time the Netherlands was 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. These are finer 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.