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Pfeffernüsse (German), also spelled “pfeffernuesse” or “peppernuts” (English) or “pebernødder” (Dutch), is a hard little cookie made with, well, pepper, and a whole bunch of other spices. Because of its deep “winter” flavours, it’s often associated with Christmas (kind of like gingerbread).
I kind of get the idea that pfeffernüsse is to Germans what biscotti is to Italians. As described by Jim Hoy and Tom Isern (from Emporia, Kansas and West Fargo, North Dakota, respectively):
… most of the Pfeffernuesse you get in that part of the country are mighty hard and crunchy; folks dunk them in coffee before eating, and they use the leftover ones to fill holes in their driveways.
According to Wikipedia:
Pfeffernüsse are extremely hard when they are first baked. For at least a week, it is difficult to bite into them without first dunking into a beverage. However, they soften with age.
Well, since there’s already a lovely blog about pfeffernüsse here, I thought I’d talk about Christmas traditions instead (‘tis the season, after all).
What are your Christmas traditions? As I’ve already hinted, one of Deanna’s family traditions is to make their own eggnog on Christmas Eve (I, for one, cannot wait for that post). My friend Di is not a huge fan of turkey dinner, so last year she and her family did hot pot (what a great idea!).
In my family, we open one present on Christmas Eve (it really sucked if you opened the batteries!). In Jim’s family, Santa puts the candy canes on the tree when he delivers the presents.
As we’ve gotten older, we’ve developed a tradition of Christmas morning Caesars (mmmm). And Jim’s sister makes the best sherried eggs ever (so bad for you, you can only have them on Christmas!).
- melt a whole bunch of butter in a frying pan
- crack in a bunch of eggs
- pour a goodly splash of sherry over the eggs
- cover, and poach in the butter and sherry
- sprinkle with freshly-grated parmesan cheese, and serve!
Oh, wait! We were talking about pfeffernüsse, weren’t we? I think I’ve had pfeffernüsse before (and haven’t been a huge fan), so I approached this blog with some trepidation. I looked at a few recipes online and then pulled out my good ol’ Joy of Cooking. I was pretty sure I wanted them a little more peppery, so I adjusted the spices. What follows is my adapted recipe (with some comments sprinkled in).
This is a very small recipe – it only makes about 60 wee Pfeffernüsse (Pfeffernüsses?). I was taking it easy, in case I didn’t like them and ended up throwing the whole lot away.
- 1 C + 1 T flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ⅛ tsp baking soda
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1½ tsp cardamom (the recipe called for ½ tsp – really?)
- ¼ tsp cloves
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp allspice (my addition)
- ½ tsp black pepper (recipe called for ⅛ tsp. They’re called peppernuts for goodness’ sake!)
2. Beat until fluffy:
- ¼ C butter (softened)
- ½ C sugar
3. Add and beat: 1 large egg yolk
4. Stir in:
- ¼ C ground almonds (the recipe said “¼ C slivered almonds, finely chopped”. I only had whole raw almonds, so I threw them in my spice grinder–which in its last life was a coffee grinder— and they made a nice, moist almond paste)
- 2 T finely chopped candied lemon peel (it asked for candied orange peel, and fresh lemon zest, but I actually had candied lemon peel on hand. And I felt like the lemon zest would be “too much” for the cookies)
5. Stir in the flour mixture alternately with:
- 3 T molasses
- 3 T Havana Club rum (the recipe asked for brandy, but I only had apricot brandy, leftover from Sangria Day—and it seemed like that would taste a little gross—so I used rum instead)
6. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours (recipe said 8, but really? Who has that kind of time?)
7. Shape into ¾ inch balls and arrange on greased cookie sheet. Bake until lightly browned (about 14 minutes).
8. Remove from oven, then toss in confectioner’s sugar.
9. Cool on a rack.
Jim liked them – a lot. He said they had all of the qualities of a savoury treat – peppery, spicy, not too sweet. He had several (shockingly). They were not tooth-cracking hard, despite the warning. I would make this recipe again!