Dec 17

German Pfeffernüsse (“Pepper Nuts”) Cookies

in Dessert, Food Ninja, German, Honey, Share Our Strength

When I was growing up I always looked forward to Christmastime and to visiting my maternal grandmother who was German.  She would always have a big platter of Christmas goodies on hand for us to nibble on.  But these weren’t just any Christmas goodies, these were German Christmas goodies—goodies that she had bought at the German deli, or had brought back from one of her trips home to Germany during the year.  One of the items that was always present was Pfeffernüsse, a traditional Christmastime cookie whose name translates to “pepper nuts” in English.

Pfeffernusse cross-section

Pfeffernüsse are slightly spicy, small round cookies made with all kinds of good things like butter, molasses, and spices (including pepper, are you surprised?), and I LOVE them.  Pfeffernüsse are hard when they are first baked, but they gradually soften as they age.  With this Christmas being the first without my grandma, I find it appropriate to be making my own Pfeffernüsse.  Celebrating my family heritage brings a bit of her into my family’s Christmas season and I have pepper nuts for my Squirrel—it couldn’t be more perfect.

If you make these within the next couple of days they’ll be perfect for sharing on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day!  They’re so easy to make–just mix the dough and chill it.  Then roll the dough into a bunch of little balls (I used a melon baller to keep my dough balls evenly sized),

scooping dough

and put them on greased baking sheets,

on the cookie sheet

and bake them!

cooling after baking

Once they’ve cooled, you roll them in confectioners’ sugar and put them in an airtight container,

rolling in confectioners' sugar

and then let them age a few days (if you can stand it!), and then eat!

German Pfeffernusse Cookies

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German Pfeffernüsse (“Pepper Nuts”) Cookies

Makes about 10 dozen cookies

1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (freshly ground is best)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons anise extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. In a heavy bottomed, nonreactive, 1 to 1-1/2 quart pot, combine the molasses, honey, and butter.  Place the pot over low heat, stirring often until the butter has melted, all the ingredients are completely combined, and the mixture is creamy.  Do not boil.  Remove the pot from the heat, pour the mixture into a large bowl, and set aside and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.  Stir in the beaten eggs and the anise extract.

2. While the mixture is cooling, sift together the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt in a separate bowl.  When the molasses mixture has reached room temperature, stir in the beaten eggs and the anise extract.  With a large wooden spoon, gradually stir in the sifted dry ingredients until everything is thoroughly combined (the dough will be a stiff dough by this point).  Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.

3. After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease several baking sheets.  Roll the dough into small balls (about 1/2-inch in diameter).  Place the balls on the greased baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart, as they will spread slightly.

4. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies have lost their shiny look and are slightly firm to the touch (but still soft).  The cookies may have some small cracks as well.  Using a thin spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet, move them to a rack to cool.  Once the cookies have cooled completely, roll each cookie in sifted confectioners’ sugar to coat thoroughly.  Store in an airtight container with wax paper between the layers at room temperature.  Allow the cookies to “age” at least 24 hours before serving (a few days to a week is even better).  If desired, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar to coat them once more before serving.


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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Ravenous Couple December 17, 2009 at 10:58 am

wow, these look like the person thing to make, box, and gift!


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 17, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Oh these look divine! I've never tried a freshly baked pfeffernusse but I know they'd be divine! :D


[email protected] December 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

You are bringing back memories… I remember eating some when I was visiting friends in Germany around Christmas…. years ago! I don't think I have ever had some since then…  Yours look really delicious.


Megan Gordon December 17, 2009 at 5:59 pm

These are my mom's favorite cookies and my sisters and I actually all make fun of her b/c, truthfully, none of us love them all that much. And even though these aren't my favorite, yours look delightful!


Melanie (Kimono Reincarnate) December 17, 2009 at 6:06 pm

I love these!  They are my favourite cookies.  The Germans have the best Christmas treats don't they!  My friend's husband's family is German and they would do a huge bake-up before Christmas.  I'd always make sure that I dropped around for a cup of tea (and treats!) around Christmas time.


Katie @ goodLife {eats} December 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

My mom used to buy these all the time at Christmas and I loved them! I knew there was something anise in them, but I've never tried making them. Thanks so much for the recipe! Maybe my mom and I can bake these together over Christmas while we visit. :)


Katie @ goodLife {eats} December 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm

My mom used to always buy these for us this time of year. I knew there was something anise in them, but I never looked for a recipe to make them myself even though I love them. Thanks for the recipe! Maybe my mom and I will bake these together while we visit for Christmas.


Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets December 17, 2009 at 9:29 pm

How lovely!  I just tried these for the first time (store-bought).  Great flavors but a little dry for me, so I bet freshly made ones would be just right.


Meeta December 17, 2009 at 11:26 pm

i remember the first time i made them! they were so hard and i threw them away – but then the grandma of my friend told me they were supposed to be at first and then become softer later. i kicked myself. ever since then i've made these a few times and i think they are the loveliest christmas cookies ever! they look absolutely great!


grace December 19, 2009 at 3:44 am

oh, happy spice blend. there's no way on god's green earth that i'd be able to let these age a few days before digging in.  no way. :)


Karen @non diet tips December 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Every year arond this time, my sis gets cookie crazy. This looks similar to the cookies she made perhaps last christmas.  I don't think she included the molasses or honey, so perhaps she didn't make an 100% authentic cookie. But it was delicious. I would have to share this more comprehensive recipe with her.


MaryMoh December 19, 2009 at 10:17 pm

These cookies look perfect for Christmas. Looks very delicious with all the different spices. What  a brilliant way to use a scoop to scoop the dough so that they come out even size. Thanks for sharing.


Joan Kocur December 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm

My first ever pfeffernusse are chilling until morning so that I can bake them first thing tomorrow.  My 7 year old nephew has a snow day tomorrow and I know he will love rolling them in the powdered sugar.  Waiting a few days will be impossible but we may be able to save a few for Christmas morning if I can lock them away from my husband.  


Dina December 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm

very nice cookies!


kamran siddiqi December 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Awesome post! These cookies look absolutely delish! I am sure that your grandmother would be absolutely proud of you! :) 


Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home December 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Beautiful little cookies! I love the final photo with the ornaments in the back.  Happy Holidays!


TK January 2, 2010 at 9:42 am

These look wunderbar (-spelling?). Had some store bought ones after Christmas. They are great. Would love to make my own but the ingredients will cost a bomb in Japan. Will buy some again later when I go to Germany.


Jurgita December 3, 2010 at 11:31 am

Gonna try these tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed :))


Hack wpa July 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

Thanks for some other informative site. The place else may I am getting that type of info written in such an ideal manner? I have a venture that I am simply now working on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such info.


Joan Kocur December 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

Thanks for sharing this recipe – As you can see my first ever were in 2009 and the pfeffernusse have become part of our Christmas tradition. I love making them and sharing them on my Christmas cookie platter.


Charlotte Reisner Wilha October 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm

My grandma always made these at Christmas time, but hers had the whole peppercorns in them. I cannot find a recipe like that. If anybody out there know of one, please share with me. These are
delicious but I sure would like grandma’s recipe. Thanks to all…


Renee Diehl November 5, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Made these today and I can not get over how perfect they are.
And they haven’t even sat for the 24hrs or more recommended.
I HAD to taste one:) Okay, two. lol
I 100% recommend these authentic tasting pfeffernusse!
Thank you for sharing!


Angela December 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm

I have been searching for a real German Pfeffernusse recipe and I believe I have it ! Thank you ! The only thing I am going to try different is rolling the dough out into a long log, pencil thickness and slicing them. Then after baking shaking them in a bag of powdered sugar. This is how I remember my Grandmother and my Auntie making them. Will let you know how it works out. Merry Christmas


Angela December 18, 2013 at 4:11 am

Just finished baking all the cookies in under an hour ! For my oven, size of cookie and cookie sheets I only baked my for 10 min and 30 sec. a pan. I did roll my dough out ,after chilling 6 hours, into little fat pencil logs and sliced them. After I pulled them out of oven I let them cool for 5 or 10 min and dropped them all into a baggie of powdered sugar. The cookies are the size of quarters and just perfect for nibbling with coffee or serving on a pretty platter. …and they taste like heaven ! The spice blend is perfection, kudo’s to your Grandmother and Merry Christmas !


Joan December 8, 2016 at 9:12 am

I am making these cookies again this year . Since I first made them in 2009 they have been a family favorite. In searching for them this year I found so many other recipes for pffernusse but I am sure none of them would be quite right — I come back to you every year for the “perfect peppernut” cookie. Thanks so many times over for your wonderful recipe and instruction .


Fuji Mama (Rachael) January 13, 2017 at 10:19 am

Thank you so much Joan for your sweet words. I am so glad that you liked them! It took me a long time to get a recipe that tasted right!


Julie November 25, 2018 at 4:27 pm

Thank’s for this recipe ! Could I dip them in dark chocolate instead of rolling the confectionner’s sugar ?


Julie December 3, 2018 at 9:33 am

I made them, dipped in dark chocolate : they’re DELICIOUS ! Everybody loved them. Thank you so much for this recipe !!!


La Fuji Mama January 24, 2019 at 3:17 pm

I am so glad!!!


deborah marshall June 25, 2020 at 10:10 am

How long do prefferneus cookies keep and I know they’re better with age but after you age them can you freeze them


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