Pfefferneuse aka Pepper Nuts


Tradition, tradition.

When I was a child, my mother always included lots of cookie baking as part of our Christmas traditions. While we often tried new recipes for the festive cookie trays we shared with family and friends, there were two constants. First there were the “cut out” cookies, rolled, cut into Christmas-y shapes and imaginatively decorated. But always, always too, there were the powdered sugar coated “pepper nuts,” made from a family friend’s  very old pfefferneuse recipe. These were the first cookies made each season, so there would be time for them to season and mellow before serving.

Move forward a generation. My children and I made dozens and dozens of cookies each Christmas–and this is not an exaggeration. In fact, one year we actually reached a goal of 100 dozen; most years though, we were more in the range of 50 dozen or so. While that may sound like a lot, please understand that these were mostly the kinds of cookies that are small, just the right size for a tasting party. And the pfefferneuse recipe we used helped up the total, since we usually were able to get 10 to 11 dozen out of each batch. (The year of the 100 dozen cookies did include a double batch.) Our tradition included stirring up a batch of these on the day after Thanksgiving, the fragrance of the baking cookies ushering in the whiff of Christmas even if there was not yet the evergreen smell of a tree.

Along with the original recipe, I am including my current iteration. I have halved it to a more reasonable sized batch and have substituted half oil for the fat. As we usually have done, I increased the spiciness just a bit too. From the beginning, we have never used citron even though it was included in Ruthie Stewart’s original recipe. Long ago I also stopped adding nuts, partly out of economy and because the cookies tasted better to us without them. I don’t feel too bad about altering “tradition,” since a brief internet search for “pfefferneuse” will reveal almost endless varieties of cookies bearing this same name. About the only thing they all have in common is the inclusion of black pepper in the cookie dough–and that is a really important thing not to omit. (Oh, and the baking sheets on which these were baked–they were my grandmother’s, and I love to bring them out especially for these traditional baking times.)

Pepper Nuts for Today

1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c dark molasses
1/2 c canola oil
1 egg
1 1/2 T cider or wine vinegar
1 1/2 T water
1/4 t anise oil OR 1/2 t anise flavoring
2 1/2 c flour
1 t soda
1/2 t allspice
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t cardamom
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground black pepper 
1/4 t nutmeg
powdered sugar for coating

1.  Combine the first seven ingredients. Beat until well blended.
2.  Sift together the flour, soda, and spices. Gradually add to the beaten liquid ingredients and stir until very well blended.
3.  Cover the bowl and chill the dough for several hours or overnight.
4.  Roll the dough into small (about 1 inch diameter) balls. If necessary, dust your hands (and the dough) with a little flour if the dough sticks to your hands as you make the cookies. Place about an inch or two apart on cookie sheets.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees about 12 to 14 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies you make.
6.  Cool on racks.
7.  Place a cup or so of powdered sugar in a small plastic bag. Put three to four of the cookies into the bag and shake to coat them well. Shake off loose powdered sugar and return the coated cookies to racks. If desired, you can coat the cookies while still warm and then a second time after they have cooled. Makes about 5 to 6 dozen cookies.

These cookies may be stored for weeks if tightly covered.

 Heritage Pfefferneuse

1 c brown sugar
1 c shortening
2 eggs
1 c molasses
3 T vinegar
3 T hot water
4 1/2 to 5 c flour
2 t soda
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t cloves
1/4 t cardamom
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t anise oil
1/4 t pepper
1 c nuts or citron

Mix molasses, vinegar, and hot water and add to creamed sugar, shortening, and eggs. Add sifted flour and dry ingredients. Roll in balls and bake at 375 degrees. Roll in powdered sugar. Best if made a few days before serving.

Makes about 11 dozen.    

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