Pfeffernusse: Tiny, Spicy Bites of Christmas Tradition

We all love the soft, fluffy, iced and decorated sugar cut-out cookies – and it wouldn’t be Christmas without those, am I right? But, if you’re looking to add something a little different to your baking this year, step back in time and make some peppernuts!

The history of these tiny, spicy, crunchy cookies is varied and vast – and most of the modern recipes contain neither pepper nor nuts. But it appears peppernuts are a centuries-old Christmas tradition in several European countries. 

In the Netherlands, the cookies (called pepernoten) are linked to the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6), when children receive treats in their shoes left out overnight. In Germany, pfeffernusse are more closely tied to Christmas itself. 

Tradition says they get even more delicious with age – and many people like to let them “season” for several days, weeks, even months! (We’d recommend consuming them before New Year’s, just to be safe.)

While our area of Ohio is home to Mennonites of mostly Swiss and German heritage, Kansas is where the Russian Mennonites lived, and where their descendants still live. This recipe comes to us from Donna, Lehman’s Executive Assistant.

Donna says: “The recipe I have is from my college roommate, Mimi Wiens, who is of Russian Mennonite descent. I think her mom was a little girl when her family escaped from Russia. I’m sure she is the one who introduced me to this little cookie and it was given to me word-of-mouth because there are very few instructions  My mom and I made them once or twice while I still lived at home, so we must have figured it out!”

(Editor’s note: we filled in the instructions to the recipe as we made it – see below).

Enjoy some pfeffernusse this season – a handful with a cup of hot coffee, tea or cocoa has been described as “divine!”

Helpful Tools:
Large mixing bowl
Cutting board
Parchment paper
Cookie sheets
Sharp knife for slicing
Container with tight-fitting lid to store your peppernuts

Rolled pfeffernusse dough, ready to slice and bake.
Slice dough into bite-sized pieces.
Scatter pieces on a cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes at 350F.
You can eat a few pfeffernusse fresh out of the oven – but they’re even better after a few days!
  1. 1 cup butter or shortening
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  4. ¼ teaspoon cloves
  5. ¼ teaspoon allspice
  6. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  7. 1 tablespoon anise
  8. 2 eggs, beaten
  9. ½ cup light corn syrup
  10. ½ cup molasses
  11. 1/3 cup water
  12. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  13. 7 cups flour
  14. Salt, to taste
  1. Cream butter or shortening and sugar.
  2. Add eggs, corn syrup, molasses, water, baking soda, salt and spices and blend well.
  3. Gradually mix in flour.
  4. Shape into rolls the size of a finger.
  5. Place long rolls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, cover and refrigerate (overnight is recommended).
  6. On a cutting board, cut into small slices, scatter on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F until golden brown (8-10 minutes, but watch closely so they don’t get too brown).
  1. Cookies should be somewhat hard and crunchy, almost like mini biscotti. They’re good fresh – but they get even better after a few days in an air-tight container!
Recipe by Mimi Wiens.

Note: This article was first published December 2015.

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