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Seven kinds of Swedish cookies
These cookies are part of the Swedish 'fika' and 'kafferep' tradition.
Photo credit: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

Seven types of cookies – the Swedish custom is a delicious history

Swedish fika – the coffee-and-cake tradition – has many strands to it. Its predecessor ‘kafferep’ – complete with seven kinds of Swedish cookies – is enjoying a revival and can easily be recreated at home.

The fika custom is an integral part of the cultural heritage of Sweden. Before the term was established in the early 20th century, ‘kafferep’, emerged at the end of the 19th century as an early variant of the custom – a private gathering of ladies involving “sju sorters kakor” (seven types of cookies). Why this precise number? It was deemed that fewer would render you stingy, and any more a show-off. As for the Swedish cookies themselves, must-haves include melt-in-the-mouth ‘Drömmar’ (dreams), ‘Chokladsnittar’ (chocolate slices) and irresistibly chewy ‘Nötkakor’ (nut biscuits). At more elaborate events, a richer smorgasbord of treats, including sponge cakes and buns, was served up in addition to the generous supply of cookies.

As for the name ‘kafferep’, its origin is unclear, but the “rep” suffix is believed to stem either from participants’ ripping and repairing of cloths, or the sharing of costs as ‘kafferep’ was originally a “bring your own” affair.

The history of Swedish fika – and the significance of kafferep

Looking back to the origins of Swedish ‘fika’, the word itself – which is so key it’s used as both a noun and a verb – is believed to be a reversal of ‘kaffi’, the old spelling of coffee. The beverage, which gained in popularity in the 19th century, was initially sipped in coffee houses. It made its way into Swedish homes by the end of the 19th century, thanks, in no small part, to the kafferep. Over the following decades, the tradition established itself, spreading nationwide from the higher ranks to all levels of society. Its popularity peaked in the 1930s, often forming part of special occasions such as christenings and birthdays. Kafferep has inspired the thousands of quality cafés found in the country today, many of which still offer the classic line-up of Swedish cookies – in demand yet again.

During the early 20th century, when men went out to work and women mostly stayed at home, the kafferep gave women the opportunity to socialise and show off their culinary skills and finest table cloths. These events were rather intimate affairs, to which mostly close friends were invited.

More than a sugary feast, the kafferep has been credited with helping to empower women. Food creator Lina Ahlin argued in a 2011 essay that the custom was a reflection of the early 20th century woman’s desire to improve her standing in society, using the kitchen as a platform via which to gain recognition. These social events may have inspired women to come together to push for a more equal society, ultimately leading to their taking up full-time employment and gaining the legal right to vote in 1919.

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Chessboards

'Schackrutor' (chessboards) cookies in the making.

Photo: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

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Chessboards

Photo: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

Raspberry caves

Photo: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

Chocolate slices

Photo: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

Seven kinds of Swedish cookies

Photo: Tina Axelsson/Visit Sweden

How to arrange a kafferep at home

So where to start if you’re tempted to arrange a 'kafferep' at home? Baking as many as seven kinds of Swedish cookies might seem quite an undertaking, but it’s easier than it sounds as many are made from the same basic dough. The so-called ‘mördeg’ is similar to shortbread dough – flour, butter, sugar – sometimes with added egg. Armed with this versatile all-rounder, small tweaks will make a big impact on both taste and appearance. Displayed en masse, this contrasting collection of Swedish cookies makes for an irresistible kaleidoscope of colour, shape and flavour.

The seven types of cookies concept is so ingrained in the culinary heritage of Sweden that it has its own dedicated cookbook – “Sju Sorters Kakor”. First published by Ica Provkök in 1945, this much-loved baking bible has been reprinted and modernised several times over the years. The latest edition – which hit shelves in 2015, with a further update in 2017 – has been edited by top patisserie chef Mia Öhrn. Respectfully, she’s gone about tweaking the content to align with modern culinary habits and standards. For instance, she swapped the inclusion of margarine with butter and added a recipe for custard made from scratch. As for the Swedish cookies that she considered deserving of a place in Sju Sorters Kakor, ‘kolasnittar’ (caramel slices) and ‘hallongrottor’ (raspberry caves or raspberry thumbprints) have made their way into the iconic book.

Here are seven kinds of Swedish cookies – three complete with recipes courtesy of Mia Öhrn herself, who has also come up with vegan alternatives.

Brysselkakor (Brussels cookies)

High on impact but simple to make, the delicately vanilla-infused ‘Brysselkakor’ – or ‘Brysselkex’ as they’re also called – are flat and round, framed by a halo of pink. This shot of vibrant colour is achieved by covering the cookie dough rolls in pink sugar (dyed with a couple of drops of red food colouring) before cutting them up into individual biscuits.

Chokladsnittar (chocolate slices)

One for the chocolate lover, this angular-cut biscuit is rich in flavour and high in contrast visually, courtesy of the “pearl sugar” sprinkled across the body of the cookie. Fret not if you can’t get hold of Swedish pearl sugar, colourful sprinkles work just as well.

Drömmar (dreams)

A most distinctive, melt-in-the-mouth biscuit, this almost meringue-like treat gets its texture from ‘hjorthornssalt’ raising agent (powdered ammonium carbonate). Infused with vanilla extract, it has a subtle kind of sweetness.

Hallongrottor (raspberry caves)

A plump cookie with a heart of scarlet-hued raspberry jam, these cookies are among the ones you’re most likely to come across in cafés and homes alike. Genius in their simplicity, the raspberry caves are easy and quick to make.

Havrekakor (oat biscuits)

Irresistibly crunchy, these golden-hued biscuits have a definite place in the Swedish biscuit hall of fame. Easy to make, raisins can be added for extra texture and flavour, and you may want to dip a section of the cookie in melted chocolate or drizzle across the surface. Plain or jazzed up with raisins and chocolate, they’re a Swedish fika hit.

Nötkakor (nut biscuits)

Plump and with a deliciously chewy texture, this enduring Swedish fika classic consists of three ingredients – ground hazelnuts, sugar and eggs. The mixture is shaped into little balls, each one decorated with a whole hazelnut. Dip a section of the cookie in melted chocolate for an extra indulgent treat.

Schackrutor (chessboards)

These two-tone, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread cookies make any Swedish fika arrangement look and taste wonderful. They incorporate both chocolate and vanilla cookie dough, assembled in a layered fashion before each biscuit is cut to reveal a chessboard design. The result is delicious and stylish in equal measure.

Fat Tuesday-buns (aka Semlor) – recipe

Bake your own Semla with this easy traditional recipe. A semla is a delicious sweet bun with an almond paste and whipped cream filling. Traditionally eaten for Lent, (the Christian fasting period) but semlor are now eaten on a daily basis by semlor addicts from after Christmas until Easter.

Fika like a Swede

Fika, the delightful custom of enjoying a coffee and a treat with friends, is as Swedish as ABBA. Surely it’s just a coffee break? Not quite.

Article sponsored by

EU and Swedish Board of Agriculture