Traditional Cookies with a Peppery Kick

Though more than 150 years have passed since my mother’s ancestors came to the U.S. from Germany, traditional recipes continue to migrate down through the generations. We are Jewish and light the Hanukkah menorah, but I also grew up making traditional German holiday sweets, including lebkuchen (a cookie similar to gingerbread) and pfeffernusse (small spice cookies).

I recently pulled a recipe from my mother’s collection and made a batch for a cookie swap. Its name, “Pepper Nuts,” is the translation of the German word pfeffernusse. The name is a bit misleading, as the cookies do not contain nuts but instead resemble the size and shape of nuts. The word pepper is more accurate. This ingredient is part of a long list of spices (I sneezed when adding it), giving the flavor a kick. Though the cookies are traditionally rolled in powdered sugar, I decided to use a chocolate glaze to make them more attractive for the swap. They keep well so I look forward to munching them throughout the holiday season. I also remember my mom, who passed away earlier this year, with every bite.

Family Pepper Nut Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)

Makes about 100 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon molasses
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and molasses.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. The batter will be very stiff. [I added a few drops of water just so it would cling together]. Form into small balls (about 1/2 inch in diameter) or roll the dough into a tube shape about 1 inch in diameter and cut into 1/4 inch rounds.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly brown. Cool on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or melted chocolate.

About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers. Somehow I ended up with a cooking gene that I brought with me from Richmond, Virginia to my current home in Boston, Massachusetts. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir and a novel. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and other American recipes with a past.
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