for papa: pfeffernusse cookies

When I was little, there was one cookie that signified the start of the holidays: the pfeffernusse. Translated, they mean peppernuts which is because they have ground pepper in them (spicy!) and they look like walnut shells (I’m guessing). My dad would bring home a small bag or two of these round and frosted cookies from the German market and I’d immediately dig in. These cookies were slightly soft, a little bit dry and not as sweet as the cookies I was used to. And oh boy, they were spicy! I loved them.

For my dad, they were cookies that I’m sure reminded him of the cookies of his youth in Eastern Europe. Cookies that tasted like his mother’s own baking. For me, they were slightly exotic. They came from a deli that had dried sausages hanging from the ceiling, jars upon jars of sauerkraut, and my dad only brought them home at Christmas. This cookie was definitely something special for the both of us.

I’ve never tried making these cookies before. In fact, I blindly assumed that these cookies could only be purchased at ethnic markets. How wrong on so many counts! These cookies are alive and well in the same old crinkly plastic bags at a neighbourhood Italian market and then I last night I spotted a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Cookies. Instead of being labour-intensive as I had assumed, they’re so easy to whip up! And of course, they taste better coming from your oven than ones shipped over seas. I’ve packed up a container and am shipping them to my dad for Christmas. They’re not only delicious, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, but they pack a whole wallop of good memories. I know he’ll love them.

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31 comments to “for papa: pfeffernusse cookies”

  1. 1
    VeggieGirl   December 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Wonderful holiday treat!!

  2. 2
    Dawn   December 15, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    these are one of my favorites too…I just love the texture of the cookie itself mostly.

  3. 3
    Daily Spud   December 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Just yesterday I made some gingerbread for the first time in a long time and what I produced sounds (in spirit at least) a lot like your pfeffernusse cookies – spicy (I added some cayenne along with fresh ginger), not too sweet, and a kind of soft texture on the inside. My kind of cookie!

  4. 4
    Bijoux   December 15, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I know that I have tried these before but I always thought they were German gingerbread cookies with icing sugar. I would get the supermarket brand that came from a crinkly package, some were always bound to be staler than others. I’m sure your papa will appreciate the effort you put into re-creating a childhood Christmas memory for him.

  5. 5
    eatme_delicious   December 15, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Aw your dad will love them!

  6. 6
    Bgstoner   December 15, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Oh so my favorite cookie and I stumbled upon them only a year and a half ago. I was looking for a good recipe for these just yesterday.

  7. 7
    Hayley   December 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    What a thoughtful gift…Martha always comes to the rescue!

  8. 8
    Helene   December 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    This has to be on my ‘Cookie List’. This looks so good.

  9. 9
    Cookie baker Lynn   December 16, 2008 at 7:58 am

    I’ve been looking for a good pfeffernusse recipe. Thanks!

  10. 10
    Sarena Shasteen   December 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    I have never actually made these, but I am sure that my husband and I would love them! We love spicy sweets!

  11. 11
    Jena   December 16, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Ah, pfeffernusse… I love Mexican wedding cakes (or pecan/walnut balls, whatever you want to call them), and I mistook my grandma’s pfeffernusse for my favorite cookies when I was a kid. I think that’s what turned me off of molasses foods almost entirely.

  12. 12
    kickpleat   December 16, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    thanks veggiegirl, they are!

    dawn, the texture is pretty wonderful!

    sounds great, daily spud!

    helene, it’s a perfect cookie for the holidays.

    bijoux, they are definitely german cookies! i’m sure my dad will love them!

    thanks, eatme!

    so funny, bgstoner! i hope this recipe helps!

    haley, props definitely go to martha!

    no problem, lynn!

    hag, these are so much better than the store-bought kind.

    mmm, spicy sweets are the best, sarena!

    too funny! i’ver never had a mexican wedding cake cookie before so i’ll definitely try those out too!

  13. 13
    hag   December 16, 2008 at 9:27 am

    I love pfeffernusse and have only had the store bought kind… I bet yours taste even better! It looks so easy to make too!

  14. 14
    Megancake   December 16, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    I LOVE Pfeffernusse! My German teacher gave me a fabulous recipe for them in 4th grade and I have made them every Christmas since. Mine is similar but you melt the butter in a saucepan with the molasses and then the eggs, you also chill the dough for an hour or two. The dough is amazing too! The key is to bake them until they are just set so they are still soft and chewy inside. Thanks for sharing such a great Christmas tradition.

  15. 15
    Foodista   December 16, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    What a delicious recipe. Do take the time to drop by at Foodista. We have launched an online food and cooking encyclopedia ala wikipedia. Add a recipe and you can win a $100 gift card to Sur la table. See you there!

  16. 16
    Madblogs.dk   December 18, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Here in Denmark we have Pfeffernusse (we call them PeberNødder which is the same as Peppernuts)as well and it is a very traditional treat during Christmas. Ours are however smaller and without the icing.

  17. 17
    kickpleat   December 18, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    megancake, your recipe sounds amazing. i love the tip about baking them until just done for softness. yum!

    thanks foodista!

    kim, my husband is familiar with a dutch version that is quite small and a hard cookie, no icing either. i wonder if they’re similar?

  18. 18
    Jill   December 20, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    I made these tonight for a German friend in her 90′s…I am sure she will love them, I do!
    I think the Dutch cookies are called Spekulaas or something like that…really good cookies too.
    Enjoy your blog!

  19. 19
    kickpleat   December 21, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Jill, Spekulaas are the dutch “windmill” cookies. I love them but there is also a dutch version of pfeffernusse that is tiny and very very crunchy. I’m sure you’re friend will love these :)

  20. 20
    Signe   December 23, 2008 at 1:30 am

    These sound fabulous, thank you for posting the recipe! Went to German Christmas market in Hyde Park here in London the other day, and they had plenty of Gluhwein but sadly no Pfeffernusse. Shall definitely try making these :-)

  21. 21
    Melinda Feucht   December 23, 2008 at 7:12 am

    These photos are fabulous!

  22. 22
    kickpleat   December 23, 2008 at 11:41 am

    signe, enjoy making them! they are easy and delicious and go lovely with mulled wine :)

    thanks melinda!

  23. 23
    Chris   December 23, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Made these a few days ago to include in my Christmas baking packages and they have been a wonderful hit. Thanks

  24. 24
    kickpleat   December 30, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    chris, glad you loved them :)

  25. 25
    Jesse   January 1, 2009 at 9:18 am

    I just saw this post and I so so wish I’d seen it earlier. These are some of my favorite cookies! My resolution is to make these for Christmas in 2009!

  26. 26
    kickpleat   January 4, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    jesse, these turned out wonderful so i’m sure they’ll be a perfect addition to your next round of xmas baking!

  27. 27
    Anonymous   January 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I just made these to bring to my parents and they’re wonderful! The texture is lovely and they’re delicious – spicy, but no one spice is overpowering. Just don’t inhale while you’re eating them or you might choke on the powdered sugar.

  28. 28
    Rumela   March 18, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Cookie with pepper and other spices!! yummm…it will be ideal for a tea party with friends. A spicy cookies to go with spicy gossips.

  29. 29
    vetterhex   December 20, 2009 at 8:07 am

    thanks, these are great. i was skeptical, because the dough was so dry, but they turned out beautifully.
    i did add a glaze, though. i glazed them with confectioner's sugar w/ milk. then tossed them in the confectioner's sugar afterwards. perfect!

  30. 30
    Brooklyn Blade   December 20, 2009 at 10:50 am

    how many cookies does this recipe make?

  31. 31
    kickpleat   December 20, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Brooklyn Blade, I have no idea actually! I can't remember offhand, and the original recipe doesn't say. I'd guess it would be about 24 or so. It did make quite a bit.

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