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

 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


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.

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 German spice cookies pfeffernusse

Porridge with cinnamon and molasses a warming start to a cold day

Porridge with cinnamon and molasses

Do you ever have trouble getting out of bed in the morning?

I do.

But not becasuse I’m still sleepy, it’s because I hate to leave the warmth and coziness behind.

Porridge with cinnamon and molasses


The dog needs walking in the morning though,  so getting out of bed means going directly to the back door, getting my coat, hat and boots on, and heading out into the cold.


All before I have had my coffee.




(I used to bring my coffee on our early walk. It made it feel less chilly outside. But there are challenges  to holding a leash and carrying a coffee and a poop bag all at once.)


Now to take the chill off I put the porridge on to cook right off the bat, because there is nothing more warming in the morning than a bowl of oatmeal. It’s filling and substantial.

It’s the morning’s version of a  hearty stew.

What’s your favourite warming breakfast?

Morning oatmeal with molasses and cinnamon

Warming porridge with cinnamon and molasses

  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3 cups water or milk
  1. Combine oats and water in a saucepan with a lid.
  2. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmmer until thick (about 10-15 minutes)
  3. Pour over a bit of milk, a drizzle of molasses and a sprinkle of cinnamon
  4. Walnuts make a tasty, healthy addition too.


Molasses Sticky Buns Recipe and the “Cin Twins”

Servings: 12-14 serving(s)

Prep time: 2 hours

Total time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Take me to the recipe

molasses sticky buns

Cinnamon buns made with a soft, buttery yeast dough and a sticky molasses sauce are worth getting out of bed for.

In university my roommate and I were nicknamed the “Cin Twins”…for totally innocent reasons.

In our senior year every morning before class we rushed off to the Sunflower Café in Antigonish for a giant whole wheat cinnamon bun and a cup of tea. The buns were still warm from the oven as we nibbled them outside-in, starting with the crunchy edges and working our way into the soft, cinnamon centre. It was a very gentle way to start the day.

I swear it was the anticipation of the first bite that got us out of bed in time to sit for our quick breakfast and still get to our 8:15 class on time.

That was more than 20 years ago and since then rarely have I found bought cinnamon buns that are worth getting out of bed for (they usually look better than they taste). But I have come across and created many recipes that are worth making. This is my latest.

For this version I have combined my favourite sweet dough with a sticky molasses syrup and amped up the cinnamon to create the most heavenly treat that still qualifies as breakfast food. The dough is a sweet egg bread that I first discovered in a Nigella Lawson book. If yeast breads intimidate you, this is a great beginner recipe.

Molasses sticky buns recipe

For the dough:

  • 4-4 1/2 cups flour plus more for kneading
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Scant 3 Tbsp quick rise yeast
  • Scant ½ cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl.
  2. Melt the butter and whisk it into the milk and eggs, then stir it in to the flour mixture.
  3. Mix to combine and knead the dough until it’s smooth and springy, adding up to 2/3 cup more flour if necessary.
  4. Form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat and cover. Leave to rise until doubled (30 min to an hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen).

In the meantime…

Line a 9” by 13” pan with parchment paper. Cut the paper large enough so it goes up the sides of the pan too.


Next, make the molasses sauce…

Molasses Sauce

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, cubed
  • 1/3 cup Crosby’s Fancy Molasses
  • 3 tablespoons water

In a small saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, water and molasses to a boil. Pour into the prepared pan.

To assemble the buns…

When the dough has risen to double its size, punch it down, roll out into a rectangle (about 11″x 15″) and spread/sprinkle with:

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ Tbsp ground cinnamon

Roll up (not too tight) from the long side, pinching to seal. Slice into 1 ½“ rounds. Place rolls, cut side down, in the molasses sauce.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in dish for 5 minutes; invert onto a serving platter. Serve warm.

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