Pfeffernüsse are cookies traditionally made in Germany for the Christmas holidays. The English translation of the name is peppernuts. Commercial Pfeffernüsse from Germany are about the size of a walnut and are dusted with powdered sugar, but we much prefer these plain little peppery nuts: What other cookie lets you eat a whole handful without feeling guilty?
Jerri’s Swiss-German Mennonite ancestors brought this version with them when they emigrated to Kansas from the Ukraine in the 1870’s. The recipe came to us from Jerri’s grandmother, Maria Kaufman, via Jerri’s Aunt Hilda, who was a talented cook famous as someone who never let anyone leave her home hungry.
Jerri has been making these cookies for many years and has become the main supplier of them to her brothers and their families. She makes a half batch of Aunt Hilda’s recipe, which is itself a half batch of Grandma Maria’s recipe. Even the recipes of our ancestors were giants!
Here is Jerri’s recipe followed by the instructions from Aunt Hilda with additional instructions and notes by Jerri. Pfeffernüsse aren’t hard to make. They just take more time than a lot of other cookies, BUT THEY ARE WORTH IT.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 tsp. oil of anise
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
Rounded quarter teaspoons of the following ground spices:
About 5 cups all-purpose flour
Aunt Hilda’s instructions: Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the egg, then add the cream, molasses and oil of anise and beat well. Sift about four cups of the flour, baking powder, salt and spices into the liquid ingredients a cup at a time, stirring well between each addition. You will need a strong wooden spoon.
Then gradually add the remaining flour. You may need to knead the remaining flour into the dough. The dough should be “firm–kinda stiff–but still maybe kinda sticky–not bad.” Mix all thoroughly, cover and set in a very cold place overnight. You can freeze the dough or keep it for days in the refrigerator. Bake in a 350º oven. “Watch carefully. They burn easy. Smells wonderful. Tastes good. Yum! Yum!”
Aunt Hilda told Jerri that her mother couldn’t make these cookies until the weather turned cold, because they didn’t have a refrigerator. If you want to make them in the traditional way, put the dough into a cold room. If you have a refrigerator, use it.
Jerri’s instructions: Take pieces of the cold dough about the size of two walnuts and roll them into quarter inch diameter “snakes” on a well-floured board. Coil the snakes into a pizza pan and separate the layers with waxed paper. Freeze the snakes for several hours or overnight.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350º and lightly grease two or three baking sheets. Chop three or four snakes at a time into three-eighth-inch-long pieces and put them on a cookie sheet. The pieces should be separated slightly. When you have a sheet full, bake it for nine to ten minutes. Let the cookies cool a minute or two before transferring them to waxed paper. Let the cookies cool thoroughly before storing them in air tight containers. These cookies develop their best flavor after being stored for at least two weeks.
I use a big wooden spoon to stir this dough and usually get Chuck to help at the end of stirring so I don’t have to “knead” to get it stiff enough. Chop only three or four snakes at a time as they are easier to cut and place on the pan if the dough is frozen. Dusting your fingers with flour makes it easier to place the pieces on the baking sheets.
This recipe makes about a half gallon of cookies.
If your oven heats unevenly (as did our previous one), you might need to turn the sheets after five minutes.
CHUCK’S NOTES: I have never made these tasty little cookies myself, but I have stirred the dough and placed lots of little pieces of “snakes” on the pans.