Pfeffernüsse? What the Whosy?

Pfeffernüsse—literal translation is “pepper nuts”—not exactly the most appetizing name for a cookie. But if spice is your thing, one bite and you’re hooked. My introduction to these gems was at a recent Craft Fair held by Artist’s of Yardley where I am a member. Guess who volunteered to head up the Bake Sale portion of the event? Yep, it was me. And I don’t even eat desserts or sweets as a general rule.

While I was manning the station, the organization’s coordinator, Bette Sovinee (fellow artist and baker of this cookie) broke up a few leftover spice cookies and put them on the table for guests to taste-test. Folks were gushing about the taste (and smell) and the tactic paid off in immediate sales.

It also got me interested in a nibble. So when The Hubster and daughter Julia came by to bring me another cup of hot tea and check out the artist’s wares, I told them to try a bite. Well, my man could barely contain himself, proclaiming “these are the best spice cookies I’ve ever eaten. You must get the recipe.”  Which, by the way, I had already asked Bette to email to me.


It wasn’t long before we got the necessary ingredients and made the delectables ourselves. Two items we didn’t have on hand were shortening and anise extract, so Russ make a quick dash to the local supermarket. (If you can’t find anise extract, a couple of substitutes are licorice extract or Pernod liqueur.)

While researching a bit about Pfeffernüsse, we found out that the cookies are actually better weeks after you bake them! The flavor of Pfeffernüsse deepens and sharpens with age, so although delicious when first baked, they are incomparably better after a couple of weeks… And supposedly, still better a few weeks after that. So if that theory holds, it’s a great idea to bake them around Thanksgiving to enjoy through the Christmas holidays!

They’re most commonly compared to ginger cookies, but have a deeper flavor profile than most traditional gingerbread cookies. Spice quantities in this recipe are somewhat elastic. Alter measurements to suit your own personal preferences, although I followed it to a “T” the first time out of the gate, with the addition of dunking them into confectioners sugar at the end of baking.

I made the dough on one afternoon but it was too close to preparing dinner to start baking them, so I did that early the following morning. As I was in the midst of taking them off of the baking sheets, Julia came down from upstairs exclaiming “Oh my God, it smells so gooood in here, I thought I was dreaming!” And she’s not necessarily a “spice” girl.

Keep in mind that when Pfeffernüsse are in their “hard” stage, they make a particularly good dunking cookie. They go great with hot tea, coffee or milk—and the dunking helps soften them.

Pfeffernüsse (German Spice Cookie)

  • Servings: Yields about 7 1/2 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


Wet mixture:

  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup margarine/butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. anise extract

Dry mixture:

  • 4 cups flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup confectioners powdered sugar, for dusting


  1. In a heavy bottomed, nonreactive, 1 to 1-1/2 quart pot, combine the molasses, honey, shortening 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.
  2. Stir in the beaten eggs and the anise extract. (As you can see, I forgot to beat the eggs first, mea culpa.)
  3. 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.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the sifted dry ingredients until everything is thoroughly combined (the dough will be a stiff dough by this point).
  5. Wrap and chill the dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.
  6. After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°. Roll the dough into small balls (about 1-inch in diameter, a melon baller is a good help here). Place the balls on the baking sheets, spacing them at least 1-inch apart, as they will spread slightly.
  7. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 14 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.
  8. While still warm, dunk each cookie top down into confectioners’ sugar to coat the heads. Or for a lighter sugar touch, just dust them with the sugar.
  9. Once cooled, 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).

Slightly expanded recipe of that from Bette Sovinee

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