If you love gingerbread cookies, then you will love these easy, gingerbread-spiced German Pfeffernüsse treats. Nothing like their store-bought distant cousins, Pfeffernüsse cookies will be enjoyed throughout the Christmas season. For no other reason, try them to say you made a Pfeffernüsse.
Pfeffernüsse, My Christmas Hygge Treat
For those who read my blog post on my favorite Chocolate Almond Biscotti, you know how much I love my cozy Hygge treats. It’s just in my European roots. I love to celebrate the peaceful moments of the morning with my tea and a sweet treat. Biscotti is to the fall and winter seasons as Pfeffernüsse is to Christmas. In December, I take a momentary pause from my biscotti ritual to indulge in our favorite Christmas cookie, Pfeffernüsse. Not surprisingly, what originally attracted me to it, was the name. Seriously, it sounds like a reindeer sneeze to me.
Come to find out, baking Pfeffernüsse cookies is in my blood due to my German and Norwegian heritage. Although I would love to say that this recipe was passed down from generation to generation from my great, great German Grandmother, that would simply not be true. This tradition starts with me and will be passed down to the next generation through my children. Sadly, it doesn’t sound as romantic, but at least knowing its origin gives me a little bit of the romance I am looking for.
Christmas Traditions Around the World
Undoubtedly, it is a dream of mine to visit the Christmas markets in Europe someday for the Christmas season. I love all the wonderful traditions and celebrations. They are replete with meaning and Hygge goodness that brings the generations together. Although the Christmas traditions of the world have similar threads throughout, I still am fascinated with how other cultures celebrate. In Germany, Pfeffernüsse cookies are enjoyed throughout the entire Christmas season, but especially in celebration of the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th. Similarly, the Netherlands has a cookie called Pepernoten, eaten in anticipation of Sinterklaas on December 5th.
Actually, I appreciate the timing of these great traditions as they place their jolly ole’ St. Nicholas early on in December so as not to upstage the birth of Jesus. It is not Santa Clause children eagerly await on Christmas Eve, but rather the Christ child or Christkind, the ultimate giver of gifts. Traditionally, children leave their shoes at their doors in hopes that if they are good, they’ll be filled with oranges and nuts, but if they are bad…coal.
Authentic Lebkuchengewürz (Gingerbread) Spice Blend
- 5 T ground cinnamon
- 4 tsp. ground cloves or 5 tsp. whole cloves
- 1 tsp ground allspice or 12 whole allspice berries
- 1 tsp ground coriander or 1 1/4 tsp. whole coriander
- 1 tsp ground cardamom or 6 green cardamom pods
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground star anise or 1 star anise pod
- 1/2 tsp ground mace
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
I love a good spice blend and if you want to make an authentic Pfeffernüsse cookie, then there is no better way than to use the traditional Lebkuchengewürz (gingerbread) spice blend. In the movie, 100 Foot Journey, Papa accuses the French of being too stingy with their spices. Madame Mallory rolls her eyes because, in her traditional opinion, his Indian cooking is excessive. They eventually come to realize a compromise that melds their two cultures into a new and unique Michelin star taste.
All that to say, I hear Papa in my head all the time when I am adding spices to my food. He says to not add enough spice is to have “meanness of spirit”. Papa continues, “If you have a spice, use it. Don’t sprinkle it. Spoon it in.” I guess Christmastime for me is a time to spoon in all the spices, especially in a spiced gingerbread-like cookie.
Enough For All Your Seasonal Gingerbread Needs
This recipe makes 1/2 cup of spice blend, enough for the Christmas Season and all your gingerbread needs. You will only use 4 teaspoons of this spice blend for this Pfeffernüsse cookie recipe. Keep the remaining spice blend labeled in a cool, dark place for future use.
Fresh toasting and grinding your spices from their whole form in a spice grinder gives you more flavor potency and health benefits. Gently heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and roll your (whole) spices around until fragrant, being careful not to burn. (FYI, I toasted whole cloves, coriander, cardamom pods, and a star anise pod, and the rest I used already ground spices.) Cool, then grind. I gave the equivalents of a few of the whole spices to ground ratios of some of the more common whole spices.
Pfeffernüsse Cookie Recipe
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 tsp. Lebkuchengewürz (gingerbread seasoning) see recipe above. If you don't want to use the traditional spice blend, then you can add 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. This is not all the spices in the Lebkuchengewürz spice blend, but it is a wonderful flavor profile using common spices most people have around.
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 cup fine ground almond flour
- 3/4 cups Sucanant sugar or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
- 5 T butter
- 3 T heavy cream
- 1 large egg
- For the glaze:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 T hot water
- zest of 1 orange (optional but totally Christmasy)
- In a small bowl combine the flours, spices, baking soda, and salt.
- Combine the sugar, molasses, butter, and cream in a small saucepan and heat until sugar has disolved. This step will give a nice glossy finish to your dough.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit. Temper the egg by adding the sugar liquid to a beaten egg, slowly.
- Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir until combined.
- Roll dough into 2 logs and cover in plastic wrap to set in refriegerator overnight.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Remove the dough and cut into rounds, rolling into balls while the dough is still chilled.
- Place the round balls on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
- Allow to cool completely.
- To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, orange zest, and hot water. Make sure to keep the glaze thick and white, not too runny. (Because we eat these often in December, sometimes I cut back on the sugar glaze and water it down to a drizzle. Although they do look like cute little snowballs when fully dunked in the thick white glaze.)
- Dip each cookie into the glaze and allow to drip on a wire rack placed over parchment paper to catch the drips.
- Allow cookies to dry completely and then store in an airtight container. The flavors actually meld over time, like a fine wine.
This recipe has been adapted from a recipe by Kimberly Killebrew of the Daring Gourmet.
Santa’s Favorite Cookie
Pfeffernüsse cookies are truly Santa’s favorite cookies…at least that is what he told me. He always gets a plateful on Christmas Eve along with a few carrots for the reindeer and of course, a mug of hot chocolate with homemade cocoa-dusted marshmallows to warm his insides. The kids love making these cookies, especially knowing how much Santa loves them. What child doesn’t want to be on Santa’s good list? Just say’n.
Please don’t think these are anything like those hard, stale, store-bought cookies. If you love Christmas gingerbread spices, give these a try. They may become your holiday favorite as well.