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If you love gingerbread cookies, you will love Pfeffernusse cookies. These delicious German Christmas cookies are slightly spicy and filled with traditional German holiday flavors.
These deliciously spicy cookies are wonderful this time of year! They are small, easily shipped, and make great holiday gifts. They are somewhat similar to german gingerbread cookies in flavor but with a tiny bit of spicy kick from the black pepper. These are wonderful with tea or coffee and are the perfect make-ahead holiday cookie!
Christmas In Germany
Christmas in Germany is such a different experience than here in the states. In the states, it’s very commercialized, and to some extent, a bit cold by comparison. A German Christmas is something I’ll never forget. The holiday season there is filled with vast Christmas markets with huge pots of mulled wine, the smell of German cookies (usually gingerbread), and hand-decorated stall after stall (Like a tightly packed farmer’s market) selling handmade items. It’s magical. There really is no other word for it.
What Are Pfeffernüsse Cookies?
Pronounced “FEHF-fuhr-noosa” (Plural. For singular, drop the last “a”), these old-world holiday cookies originated in Germany and were created by Johann Fleischmann, a confectioner from Offenbach am Main. He created the recipe in 1753 (source) and it became popular as a holiday cookie around the 1850s. Now they are actually more popular in the Netherlands and Denmark, despite being a traditional German cookie.
What Does Pfeffernusse Mean In German?
“Pfeffer” in German, means “Pepper”.
“Nusse” in German, means “Nuts”
Why Are They Called Pfeffernusse?
To translate exactly, these would be called Pepper Nuts. But why? Because of the addition of black pepper. And when you form them, they resemble a walnut. It’s really not more complicated than that! And no, there are no actual nuts in these cookies. At least not traditionally. But they would be a yummy addition!
Is Pfeffernusse The Same As Gingerbread?
Pfeffernusse are to Gingerbread, what German Shepherds are to dogs. Pfeffernusse cookies are a type of gingerbread. They have a bit more kick, however, thanks to the addition of pepper (and ground ginger, in some recipes). The spices, while similar, are also a bit different.
But…Pepper… In Cookies?
Yep! But the pepper is not an overwhelming flavor. It simply offers a tiny hint of “kick” that these cookies are known for. So don’t worry, you won’t need to go running for a glass of water.
Can Pfeffernusse Cookies Be Glazed?
Sure! You can glaze them. However, the traditional topping or coating will always be a powdered sweetener. Plus, they are much cleaner to handle that way. The powdered sugar may sprinkle a bit, but a glaze will leave your fingers sticky. I’ll talk about what kinds to use below.
How Many Cookies Does This Recipe Make?
I used a cookie scoop and ended up with a baker’s dozen (13 cookies). However, these were fairly large. Larger than they should have been. If you use a smaller scoop or spoon, you could actually be able to get 26 cookies out of one batch of this dough (nutrition data below reflects a yield of 26 cookies). However, the size of the finished cookies is up to you. But typically, they are approximately the circumference of a Nilla Wafer. Aim for dough balls that are about 1 inch.
How Do I Store Pfeffernusse Cookies?
Normally, these types of cookie recipes (the originals), were made so that you could store the cookies without refrigeration for several weeks (though they were still kept cool thanks to the winter weather). This is common with a lot of Nordic cookie recipes. The honey used was not only a sweetener but also a preservative.
However, this particular recipe should be refrigerated in an airtight container. If stored properly, your cookies can last for about a week, give or take.
Can You Freeze Pfeffernusse Cookies?
Yes! They freeze quite well! If packed up tightly, they will freeze for up to 3 months.
What Type Of Sweetener Should You Use?
Recipes for traditional German spice cookies call for honey and molasses. However, I took a different path in order to not let these be such a huge shock to my blood sugar.
I find that a dark, granular sweetener works wonderfully. And since my recipes avoid processed sweeteners, things like Sucanat, monk fruit, or coconut sugar are very appropriate here. Personally, I used brown Erythritol due to my blood sugar.
What’s Different About This Recipe?
Many Pfeffernusse recipes call for wrapping your dough in plastic wrap and chilling it in the fridge for several hours. This recipe does away with all that! Simply mix all the ingredients together and scoop them onto your cookie sheet for baking. Simple!
Also, this recipe is gluten-free if you purchase ingredients that are labeled as such.
Pfeffernusse Cookies As Gifts
If you love to bake for people during the holidays, these cookies are a great option. They hold up super well in shipping if packed tightly.
What You Need To Make Pfeffernusse Cookies
Ground black pepper – White pepper will work too in a pinch.
Ground anise seed – Or you can use ½ teaspoon of anise extract.
Oat flour – Purchase gluten-free if that is important for you.
Granular sweetener – Try Sucanat, coconut sugar, or monk fruit. Any of these are clean eating replacements for brown sugar. I used brown Erythritol because of my blood sugar.
Large eggs – Room temperature.
Virgin coconut oil – In a liquid state. If yours is solid, a quick 30 seconds in the microwave should do the trick. You can sub with the same amount of butter if you prefer that. Unsalted butter works best.
Pure vanilla extract – Avoid vanilla flavoring.
Unsweetened applesauce – This helps reduce the fat content.
Powdered sweetener – If you can’t find one of the above-mentioned sweeteners in powdered form, you can grind your own in a spice grinder.
How To Make Pfeffernusse Cookies
Preheat oven to 350° F. and line cookie sheet (or sheets) with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, using a whisk, whisk together all the spices.
Whisk in the remaining dry ingredients.
Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes too thick to stir. Continue kneading by hand if necessary, just enough to get everything combined.
If using an electric mixer such as a KitchenAid stand mixer, use a medium speed with a dough hook. The paddle attachment will also work. You should end up with a scoopable, yet slightly stiff dough.
Use a cookie scoop to scoop equal portions onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a small scoop. These should be relatively tiny cookies. Approximately the diameter of a Nilla Wafer.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the outside of the cookies feel firm to the touch.
Cool them completely on a wire rack.
Place the powdered sweetener in a bowl and roll the cooled cookies in the sweetener until they are fully coated.
Serve or pack up for storing.
How To Store Pfeffernusse Cookies
These are best kept in the fridge for up to approximately 1 week, give or take.
Can You Freeze Pfeffernusse Cookies?
You can! Store them in a freezer-safe, airtight container and keep them in the freezer for up to 6 months.
More German Holiday Cookies
- Thumbprint Cookies
- Lemon Horn Cookies
- German Oatmeal Cookies (4 flavors from one batch!)
- Honey Almond Cookies
Other Traditional German Recipes
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- Baking sheets
- Parchment paper
- Cookie scoop (helpful, but not critical)
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ½ tsp. ground allspice
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. ground anise seed (or ½ tsp. anise seed extract)
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- 2½ cups oat flour
- 1 cup granular sweetener
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- ¼ cup virgin coconut oil (in liquid state)
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
- ½ cup powdered sweetener
- Preheat oven to 350° F. and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a whisk, stir together all the spices.
- Whisk in the remaining dry ingredients.
- Add the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes too thick to stir. Continue kneading by hand if necessary, just enough to get everything combined.
- Us a cookie scoop to scoop equal portions onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the outside of the cookies feel firm to the touch.
- Cool them completely on a cooling rack.
- Place the powdered sweetener in a bowl and roll the cooled cookies in the sweetener until they are fully coated.
- Serve or pack up for storing.
Recipe from the Gracious Pantry® archives, originally posted on 12/19/21.