Christmas in Sweden might not arrive if these spiced cookies -- in shapes of gingerbread folk, hearts, and the beloved Christmas pig -- weren't on the scene. To follow the Swedish tradition, roll the cookie dough thinly.
In a medium saucepan combine sugar, molasses, shortening, and butter. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat; cool for 45 minutes.
Add egg, cinnamon, orange peel, allspice, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, cardamom, and cloves to saucepan, stirring well to mix. Add flour, one-third at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Divide dough in half. Wrap and chill dough for 2 to 24 hours or until firm enough to handle.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet; set aside.
On a well-floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-to 5-inch cookie cutter, cut into desired shapes. If desired, make a small heart cutout in the center of larger gingerbread men. Place on prepared cookie sheet. If desired, top with nuts, pressing lightly.
Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 5 to 6 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.
If desired, in a medium mixing bowl combine powdered sugar, meringue powder,* and cream of tartar. Add 3 tablespoons cold water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture is combined; then beat on medium to high speed for 5 to 8 minutes or until mixture forms stiff peaks. (If mixture seems stiff while beating, add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Icing should be fairly thick for piping. For a thinner glazing consistency, stir in a little more water after beating.) Spread cooled cookies with thinned icing. When not using, keep tightly covered to prevent it from drying out; keep refrigerated. Makes 36 cookies.
Look for meringue powder at kitchen, cake-decorating, and crafts shops.