This Spicy German Favorite May Be the World’s Best Christmas Cookie
When I was young, my mother would bake a vast assortment of cookies for Christmas — a dozen varieties at least. Pfeffernüsse (often spelled Pfeffernuesse) were always the first one she made, usually right after Thanksgiving.
Why so early? Well, the flavor of Pfeffernüsse deepens and sharpens with age. Although delicious when first baked, they are incomparably better after a couple of weeks. And still better a few weeks after that.
So if you plan to enjoy these cookies for Christmas, you’ll want to make them soon. And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll discover how easy Pfeffernüsse are to make.
Recipe: Pfeffernüsse Cookies
Pfeffernüsse can be translated as “pepper nuts.” A few recipes actually include almonds or walnuts (though most don’t). Virtually all Pfeffernüsse recipes include cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Some recipes (but not mine) call for lemon zest, candied citrus, or spirits (usually brandy or rum). In my recipe, the predominant flavor is anise.
This recipe yields about 9 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them — and how much dough you eat in the process. Pfeffernüsse will store well in airtight containers at room temperature. You can also freeze them (see Notes).
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs (consider using pasteurized eggs; see Notes)
- ½ cup white corn syrup
- ½ cup molasses
- 4 - 5 tablespoons anise seed (or even more if you prefer; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup warm water (from the tap, or microwaved for a few seconds)
- 6½ cups flour
|Pfeffernüsse ready to bake|
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and place rack in center of the oven.
- Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl that is large enough to hold all ingredients (a stand mixer like a Kitchen Aid is ideal for this, although you can also use a hand mixer — or even beat the ingredients by hand, if you are particularly energetic).
- Add the following ingredients one at a time, beating after each addition to incorporate: eggs, corn syrup, molasses, anise seed, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.
- Dissolve baking soda in warm water, add to mixture, and beat again.
Add flour, and beat mixture until all ingredients are well incorporated. The dough should be somewhat stiff.
- Take a handful of dough and roll it into a long cylindrical sausage shape about one inch in diameter. Repeat until you’ve formed all the dough into cylinders.
- Optional step: Wrap the dough cylinders in wax paper or cling wrap and refrigerate them for half an hour or longer (even overnight) before continuing with the recipe. Chilling the dough makes it easier to handle, but you can skip this step if you’re in a hurry.
- Cut one-inch pieces of dough from the cylinders and roll the pieces into small balls. Place dough balls on baking sheets that have been lined with silicone baking mats or parchment paper (you can also use greased cookie sheets). It’s probably easiest to roll enough dough balls to fill one baking sheet, then start baking while you roll more.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies are done when baked through and starting to brown on top.
- Roll cookies in powdered sugar while still warm. (You can do this when the cookies are cold, but the powdered sugar sticks a bit better when the cookies are fresh from the oven.)
- Store cookies in an airtight container.
|Roll baked Pfeffernüsse in powdered sugar|
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So I suggest using pasteurized eggs for cookie dough. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? I don’t know about you, but I find it’s impossible to make cookies without tasting the raw dough!
- You can easily identify pasteurized eggs because they have a red “P” stamped on them.
- Spice quantities in this recipe are somewhat elastic. You can alter measurements to suit your taste. Adding a bit more anise seed and cinnamon can work well.
- Pfeffernüsse will keep up to 8 weeks when stored in airtight containers — although you’ll undoubtedly eat them long before then!
- Pfeffernüsse are quite soft when first baked, but quickly become harder. Then as they age (and absorb moisture), they soften somewhat. This effect may be less pronounced when you freeze the cookies, although I can’t say this definitively since I rarely freeze them (storing Pfeffernüsse at room temperature works well).
- When Pfeffernüsse are in their “hard” stage, they make a particularly good dunking cookie. They go great with hot tea or milk. And the dunking helps soften them.
- Some people (though not me) even dunk Pfeffernüsse in wine! If you’re going that route, I suggest not rolling them in powdered sugar – just leave them plain. Having bits of powdered sugar floating in wine just doesn’t seem appealing to me.
- I got this recipe from my mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from . . . well, let’s just say it goes back to the 19th century at least. It originated in Germany (where my mother’s ancestors came from).
Complex & Delicious
Pfeffernüsse have a complex, spicy anise flavor that adults love. Most kids do too, although younger children tend to prefer cookies with a simpler, more sugar-forward taste. Preferably something with chocolate – like the World’s Best Chocolate Drop Cookie, another recipe my mother always baked at Christmas.
When I was growing up with hungry siblings, Pfeffernüsse were usually the last holiday cookie standing. Too many other varieties competed for our favor. But that was probably a good thing. By the time we got around to eating them in quantity, their flavor was aged to perfection.
Now that I’m older, Pfeffernüsse are my favorite. In fact, I consider them to be the best Christmas cookie ever.
Maybe I’ve just aged to perfection.
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You had a good mother! I have always wanted to try these as we once had a nanny from Germany who missed them each season. Will have to give it a go! Thanks.
Hi, Abbe, yup, she is a good mother! You should give these a try - they really are pretty easy to make. They do take just a bit of time, but the results are worth it. Thanks for your comment.
These look so good. Would love for you to share this with us over at foodepix.com.
Hi FoodEpix, thanks for the compliment. I'll check out your site - thanks for the invite.
these looks fantastic. I love all the flavors. And anything rolled in powdered sugar is great :) beautiful photos!
Wow, I can't believe your mother made so many cookies at Christmas time! My father always makes pounds and pounds of sausage and peppers (an Italian, or at least my family, tradition) but neither of my parents ever baked anything for us. I don't believe I've ever had Pfeffernusse but I must admit I'm totally intrigued by a cookie that gets better weeks later! Thanks for this great recipe, and an introduction into German (and your family's) tradition!
@Kimberly, thanks! The flavors are great. And I'm a sucker for powdered sugar, too. Unfortunately I tend to get it all over myself! Thanks for your comment.
@Katherine, it was an amazing number of cookies. When I was growing up it seemed normal - my mother did this every year, after all - but it did eventually dawn on me that none of my friends' mothers made that many cookies. Great variety - eventually many of them will make their way to the blog! If you like anise (not everyone does), you'll really enjoy this Pfeffernüsse recipe. Thanks for stopping by!
These look amazing! I'm going to try a batch of them, but I think I will half the recipe. Is there anything special to note about halving it?
Hi Anonymous, glad you're going to try these! I can understand why you'd want to make half a batch - the recipe makes a lot of cookies. I think it's pretty safe to cut all the ingredients quantities in half, except for the baking soda (my understanding, perhaps wrong, is that when you halve or double recipes with baking soda, the amount of baking soda doesn't halve or double because it needs a certain amount to do its stuff). So I'd either leave the quantity of baking soda the same (you can cut down the water, though), or maybe reduce it to 3/4 teaspoon and reduce the water to a tad less than 1/4 cup. This is all guesswork, however. Do let me know what you decide to do and how the Pfeffernüsse turn out. Thanks for commenting.
These look great. I love that they can be made so far ahead of time!
Hi Beth, yes, part of the charm of Pfeffernüsse is they seem to store forever! (Well, until early January at least if you make them around Thanksgiving.) Thanks for your comment.
Perfect. These are just like the ones my "OMA' made. I was looking for an easier reciepe for these then the one from my ancient inherited German cook book. I did leave them out before baking to speed the drying process, as I am the coffee/cookie dunker type. Ever had plum dumplings ? looking for that too.
Thanks your Mom taught you well.
Hi Anonymous, glad these remind you of your OMA's Pfeffernüsse! I've never had plum dumplings although I've seen them on restaurant menus and in a few cookbooks. I should work up a recipe on them. Thanks for taking time to comment.
These looks so good! Perfect for the holidays!
Hi, Natalie - thanks! They really are a great holiday cookie. Thanks for stopping by.
These are just what I'm looking for!
Just a question: are the whole anise seeds bothersome when chewing and if so, would it work to grind them up a little?
Hi Krista, I hope you enjoy these! The anise seeds aren't too bad when you're chewing, but sometimes they do get stuck in your teeth. I've never ground them up, but I think that would work really well. At least I can't think of a problem with doing that. Why don't you try it and let us know how it works? Thanks for your comment.
They turned out beautifully! So delicious and I know they will just get better!
I ground the anise, used honey in place of corn syrup and also rolled the dough balls in sugar before baking as well as after baking to get a good coating.
Thanks for a wonderful recipe! I'll be making the anually!
Hi Krista, thanks for reporting back! Glad to hear the ground anise worked. The honey is a good substitution - I've often wondered if originally honey was the sweetener used in these since it's an old recipe (although I know corn syrup was invented in the 19th century). Good to hear the honey works - I may try that next year. And rolling the balls in sugar before baking is an interesting idea! Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm really happy you enjoyed these.
Yum! These cookies look soo good.
Hi Russell, thanks! They're wonderful. Thanks for taking time to comment.
I love this cookies, but I use extract of Anise and also use honey instead of corn syrup. The seeds tend to stick in dentures :-) LOL which is a problem for my husband.
Hi Just Because, using extract of Anise sounds like it's really working for you - good idea. And honey in anything is always great. Thanks for your comment.
These are one of my all time favourite cookies! Can't believe it's been so long since I've made them. Would love to give your recipe a go. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Y, it's a great cookie, isn't it? I hope you enjoy the recipe! Do let me know how it turns out. Thanks for taking time to comment.
They taste awful.
Hi Anonymous, sorry you don't like this terrific cookie. But the taste of anise isn't for everyone. Thanks for reading.
What type of flour do you use? Plain, all purpose, self raising?
Hi Anonymous, all purpose flour is what I use (what is the difference between that and plain?). Definitely not self-rising - this recipe has baking soda in it, which would make self-rising flour redundant. Thanks for your comment.
I received a comment from Jocelyn (which unfortunately got deleted — Blogger is sometimes a tad twitchy). She asked whether you could use anise extract in these, and if so, how much. I don't know - I've never tried it. I suggest you try it and report back to us! Thanks for the comment.
I love anise and I'm pretty sure I'm going to love these. They remind me of German lebkuchen cookies. I'm going to make them with honey. Do you know do these ship well? I was thinking of shipping some to friends.Thanks for the recipe, so very kind of you since it was your mom's recipe.
Hi Haniela, these should ship pretty well. They're a fairly solid, dense cookie - unlikely to turn to crumbs. However, I've never shipped them so it's all guesswork on my part. Thanks for the comment.
I love these and buy them from the local German baker when I can.
Hi Arthur, aren't these a great cookie? German bakeries are a great place to buy these! Although they're usually available only from about now through Christmas. Thanks for your comment.
Gorgeous and delicate cookie! Look delicious. I did not know that these could be kept so long. They definitely would be gone the 2nd day! Thank you for sharing this family recipe. Excellent pictures!
Hi Judy, these do store a remarkably long time. Although they tend to go quickly! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Tried the recipe replacing syrup with honey and a half tsp of anise oil instead of anise seeds. Love the cookies! One question: how long will my house smell like licorice? It's been a couple of days and I still smell anise when I open the door. It's actually not a problem...just curious.
Hi Joe, glad you enjoyed these! Anise does have a flavor that lingers, doesn't it? With the anise seed, the lingering aroma is usually gone in a day or two. I've not worked with anise oil, so that might last a bit longer. But it's a pleasant aroma, and maybe it lingered a bit longer than that, and because I enjoyed it I just didn't notice! Thanks for the comment.
I forgot to mention that I put a link to your post on the Pfefferneusse community facebook page.
Hi Joe, I didn't actually know there was a Pfefferneusse community facebook page! Thanks for linking - I really appreciate it.
This has been a tradition in my family ever since I can remember. My mother, aunts and grandma always make them the day after thanksgiving. I remember not liking them too much as a kid, but now I think they are great. Plus the fact that its a tradition and comes from our German roots makes them all the tastier. I just finished eating the latest batch and being over 1,000 miles from home makes me miss them even more.
Hi Anonymous, when I was younger these weren't my favorite, although I certainly liked them. Particularly in January when they were the last cookie standing! Thanks for the comment.
I was just wondering about the molasses. I have the Brer Rabbit syrup which contains invert sugar and corn syrup, not the black strap, Should I just double this since it contains corn syrup already or go ahead with adding it in.
Hi Anonymous, I'd use the Brer Rabbit syrup in the same quantity (1/2 cup; also use the corn syrup). The sweetness will be the same, although the flavor will be slightly different (not enough to notice in this cookie; my mom always used Brer Rabbit). Thanks for the question.
Thank you very much for this recipe! I made them last year for Christmas and they turned out great-- and I am about to make them again for this year! :-)
Hi Cathy, I'm glad you like these! Aren't they a terrific cookie? It's just not Christmas without these, IMO. Thanks for letting me know that you made and enjoyed them. :-)
I really love baking traditions, we (my daughter and I)bake cookies for over 40 families, it's a lot of work, a lot of cookies and a lot of fun. (the house becomes a mess, but the fragrance is great!)
Hi Patricia, cookies for 40 families! Wow, your kitchen must smell heavenly in December! Such a great tradition — I really admire you. Thanks for the comment.
Dude this is amazing. I must make these. Super yum.
Hi Kim, you definitely need to give these a try - they're truly wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
I would like to try making these but have a question. Is there a way to make it like a glaze and not a dusting of powdered sugar..there's a store brand my mom used to buy from a Germany deli and I wanted to try making it that way.
Hi Mara, I know the type of glaze you mean - I've seen that too. Never made it, though. It's some kind of sugar glaze, but alas, I can't be more helpful. Thanks for taking time to comment.
I also love the glazed version of these and found the following recipe for pfeffernusse glaze: 1 egg white, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp anise seed, and 1 cup powdered sugar. I made my version with 3 Tbsp pasteurized egg whites from a carton and used 1/2 tsp cinnamon instead of the anise seed. I rolled a few of them at a time in the glaze, then drained and dried them on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. This glaze recipe covered just shy of 3 dozen of the cookies from this cookie recipe. I made a three batched of glaze, coated most of them and powdered the remaining ones. I also dusted/stored the glazed ones in powedered sugar since I don't think you can have too much of it on there. :)
Also, this is by far my favorite pfeffernusse recipe. It comes out exactly the texture I want!
Hi Atajev, your glaze sounds really good - have to try that. Thanks for letting us know about it. And glad you liked this recipe - it's one of my favorite recipes from my mother. Thanks for the comment.
Thank you so much for this recipe! We made them last night with honey and half anise extract, half anise seeds. Also, I added a 1/4 tsp of white pepper for a little snap. DELICIOUS! We will definitely be making these every year. I love that one batch makes a literal mountain of cookies. Thanks. :-)
Hi Anonymous, I really like the addition of the white pepper. We've added black pepper before, but white seems an even better choice. Glad you liked these! And thanks for taking time to comment.
This is a cookie that graced our holidays (be it Christmas or even Easter!) and always brings me back to my childhood. I've seen your comments on my friend Sissi's blog (with a glass) and when I searched Pfeffernüsse and saw your recipe, I knew it was the one to try. We're celebrating Hungarian Easter on Friday with my cousin's family and I know that her children will be very excited to try this tasty treat. I'm very happy to have found the recipe so I don't have to buy the ready made cookies from my European deli's. Thank you.
Hi Eva, isn't this a wonderful cookie? So full of flavor! And it's so good it's a great idea to serve it at Easter as well as Christmas. Thanks for the comment.
I grew up with this cookie. I'm half German and half Swiss. This was the first cookie my mother would make every Christmas season. But your recipe seems more like a lebkuchen. These are not Pfeffernuesse because the recipe must contain the key ingredient - pepper! They are, afterall, "Pepper Nuts". The recipe I know contains chopped almonds, minced candied fruit (citron), WHITE PEPPER, ground cloves, cinnamon, grated nutmeg, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder. No molasses or anise. This can't be the original recipe for this cookie.
Hi Barbara, thanks for your input! Pfeffernüsse do indeed translate as pepper nuts, and there are many, many recipes for this. As I note above, there are some that included nuts and candied fruit (like yours). I've seen recipes that include pepper, but they're not that common (or maybe I'm misinformed). I've always thought the "pepper" part was because the spices used in this cookie are "hot" spices -- ones with a fairly aggressive, "peppery" flavor. But again, I may be misinformed. Anyway, I highly doubt if this is the "original" recipe for this cookie -- I don't believe Pfeffernüsse even originated in Germany! It is, however, an authentic family recipe for Pfeffernüsse that was brought to the US in the 19th century by some of my ancestors. I suspect the recipe was changed a bit over the years -- I've always wondered about the use of corn syrup, for example. Anyway, thanks so much for your comment.
Thanks for the response, KR. I certainly didn't mean any disrespect to your family's recipe. My mom always told me that this recipe called for white pepper and that is why it's called "pepper nut". I find it interesting that the recipe may not have even originated in Germany. Well in any case, I'm also making Springerle this season and I am off to get the Stollen into the oven.
Thanks for sharing these old recipes. It's so important to share this knowledge and the heritage of old family recipes!
Froehliche Weihnachten and Happy Baking!
HI Barbara, no disrespect assumed or taken! From my limited reading, there are a couple of theories for how these got their name -- it might be because the cookies themselves look a little bit like nuts, and have a spicy flavor (some Pfeffernüsse are much smaller than the ones we make -- nut size). We haven't made Springerle in years -- need to do so! And we'll be making stollen soon. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!
Now isn't that crazy. My mom got our recipe from an older landlady when I was in the 7th grade. She told mom they were a German cookie. It makes no difference we have made them every Christmas time for years, it became our tradition. If I ever forgot to make them I'm sure the family would be disappointed. I will try your recipe as the one I have the cookies are so sticky to roll. Got any ideas on why? Thank you , Joyce Bess
Hi Joyce, this is a wonderful cookie, isn't it? Rolling these out can sometimes be sticky work! You could add more flour to the dough, of course, but that might make them heavier. I often wet my hands a bit before rolling them -- for some reason things don't seem to stick when I do that. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself! :-) Thanks for the comment.
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