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.
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies)
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t freshly ground pepper
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
1 large egg
1/2 t vanilla
1 1/4 c confectioners’ sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350. Line sheets with silpat or parchment.
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, spices and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat molasses, brown sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Slowly mix in the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
3. Roll about a tablespoon of dough into balls and arrange on prepared baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 14 minutes or until the tops of the dough are firm to the touch and have cracked slightly. Place cookies on wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.
4. Working in batches, add a few cookies into a high-sided bowl (or paper bag) filled with confectioners’ sugar. Roll about or shake until cookies are well coated. Place back on wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container.