Classic German spice cookies – the beguiling Pfeffernusse

 Pfeffernusse German spice cookies

 

 

I’m beginning to think that there are two Christmas cookie camps: there’s the very sweet, sometimes gooey, chocolate-usually-included camp and there is the often spicy, been-around-for-hundreds-of-years, goo-less camp.

A simplified view, I know, but the idea of special Christmas cookies covers the gamut.

For me, simple is beautiful. I love traditional cookies with complex flavours and pleasing textures, exotic spices and no food colouring.

Pfeffernusse German spice cookies

 

I eat more than my fair share of chocolates over the Holidays and I won’t turn my nose up at gooey sweets but when push comes to shove it’s the unassuming cookie on the tray that catches my eye.

Take these Pfeffernusse for example. These German Spice Cookies of my childhood are a humble-seeming biscuit that didn’t really catch my eye until I was in my 20s.

I have no German roots but my mom is an adventurous baker and was always drawn to European treats. I grew up eating Saint Lucia buns on December 13, Lebkuchen decorated with candied angelica and Vienna crescents rich with ground nuts. We devoured cardamom gingersnaps, Linzer cookies and pfeffernusse alongside shortbreads and Aunt Mary’s sugar cookies.

Pfeffernusse German spice cookies

 

This isn’t the exact recipe I grew up with though. Since pfeffernusse translates to “peppernuts” I was wondering about the “nut” bit. My recipe has lots of ground pepper but no nuts so I went hunting for other recipes and came across this version, complete with ground almonds, citrus zest and rolled in spiced icing sugar.

Slightly chewy and very aromatic these cookies became a new family favourite, especially for my 13-year-old who also has a fondness for Timbits.

 

German spice cookies – Pfeffernusse

Adapted from Chow.com

 For the cookies:

  • 3 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour and two cups of white flour)
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. packed finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 medium lemons)
  • 2 tsp. packed finely grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup Crosby’s Fancy Molasses

For the spiced sugar:

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Directions:

For the cookies:

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together dry ingredients (flour through almonds).
  2. In a large bowl beat together the butter and lemon and orange zest. Add the brown sugar in three batches and mix until well combined.
  3. Beat in the egg then the molasses.
  4. Add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing until just combined.
  5. Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 1 hour.
  6. Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet (at least an inch apart).
  7. Bake at 350 F for about 12 minutes. (Don’t let the bottoms get too dark).
  8. Let them cool a bit then drop warm cookies into the spiced icing sugar and cool on a rack.

For the spiced sugar mixture

While the cookies are baking, sift all ingredients together into a large bowl; set aside.

To freeze, don’t roll them in the sugar mixture until they’re thawed and ready to eat.

Do you have favourite Holiday recipes that you make year after year? I’d love to hear all about them.

One more thing…

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 German spice cookies pfeffernusse

4 thoughts on “Classic German spice cookies – the beguiling Pfeffernusse

  1. margaret says:

    Hi, Briget – I hope you’re following up on this; a use perhaps for all that non-fancy molasses I haven’t been able to figure out a use for!

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/road-salt-alternatives-include-cheese-brine-molasses-1.2468744

    1. Bridget Oland says:

      Hi Margaret,
      It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it. In the meantime, I tested a new recipe last night that would be perfect with cooking molasses. I’m giving them as gifts for my daughter’s teachers but will photograph some to include with a blog post before Christmas.

  2. The Spiceman says:

    It would be interesting to try equivalent amounts of blends like Lebanese Seven-Spice(ginger, pepper,cassia, allspice, clove, nutmeg & fenugreek)or Chai Spices (cardamom, mace, fennel, clove & peppercorns)in this recipe. Liquid Gold on Prince William Street should have them.

    1. Bridget Oland says:

      Thanks Costas, those are delicious suggestions. I have to run down to Prince William St. tomorrow so will pick some up.

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