Recreating memories of Germany: Pfeffernüsse

Way back in 2004 I went on a 2-month exchange to Germany over December/January and it was the best Christmas I have ever had. All thanks to my amazing exchange partner and her family, I got to experience all the traditions, beliefs, practices and thrills of a true German Christmas, including the unmissable opportunity to learn how to make a huge range of German Christmas cookies. One of my favorites was the Pfeffernüsse (“pepper” + “nuts”).

Pfeffernuesse 1

The recipe I followed was a mix between the recipe I brought back from Germany and a recipe I found online. This made 30-odd cookies:

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 ground cloves
Roughly 25 grams of unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C (not fan-forced)
  2. Sift together flour, salt, pepper, cinnamon, baking soda, all spice, nutmeg and cloves
  3. Crack in the egg and put in the cubes of butter
  4. Pour in the honey, sugar and molasses. Mix together and knead to form dough
  5. Roll out the dough about 1 cm thick
  6. Slice into pieces about 3 or 4 cm wide (this depends on how big you want your cookies to be)
  7. Roll each piece into a ball and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper
  8. Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. This also depends on the size of the cookies. The larger ones I rolled took about 15-20 minutes.

Once they were done, I took the cookies straight from the oven and placed a couple in a plastic bag with icing sugar. Making sure that the opening was closed tightly, I shook the cookies in the bag until there was a nice coating of icing sugar on each of them. I repeated this until I had all the cookies dusted in sugar.

My exchange partner’s dad, who makes these cookies for them, makes a simple glaze out of icing sugar mixed with a bit of water. This must be brushed over the cookies when they are hot.

Learning

If I made these again, I would definitely not add as much sugar/honey/molasses/all of the above because these turned out a bit too sweet for my liking, especially since I covered them with sugar afterwards as well. I would probably go for about 3/4 of what the above recipe allows for.

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