..the smells of any number of herbs and spices, I was, not unexpectedly, offered a sampling of glögg, the customary Christmas drink in Sweden. Naturally, it came with ginger snaps (pepparkakor) another time-honored tradition. Then, as a special treat, some other not dissimilar, cookies were served.
They were delicious. Asked about them, sommelier Leena Jansson, told me that she had just made them herself, from a recipe by Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179). A German saint and a most accomplished woman – abbess, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, visionary, and composer – Hildegard was also a cookie-maker truly to have stood the test of time. In Sweden her cakes are called nervkakor, which, in rough translation, means nervous cakes – a reference, presumably, to the calming effect they’re supposed to have on the nervous system. Here the recipe:

4-5 sticks of butter
4 1/2 cups raw sugar 2 eggs 4 1/2 cups dinkel/spelt flour 4 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar 2 ˝ teaspoons cinnamon 2 ˝ grated nutmeg ˝ teaspoon clove 1 cup grated almonds

Mix butter and sugar thoroughly. Stir in the eggs, then the rest of the ingredients. Knead the dough until smooth and shape it into six rolls. Let the rolls rest overnight, preferably in a plastic bag, then cut them, add some chipped almonds, and bake for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Written and photographed by Bo Zaunders