If you don't know Pfeffernusse aka pepper nuts, you should definitely try our authentic, easy recipe. Even you need to wait a while to enjoy them, the active preparation time is very quick. These delicious cookies with fine spices are one of the quick German classic Lebkuchen cookies in the Advent season.
Pfeffernüsse are a classic German gingerbread treat around the holidays. Read our article to find out how this traditional Christmas cookies got it´s interesting, but misleading name.
What Are Pfeffernusse Cookies?
Peppernuts are small, round gingerbread cookies, usually covered with a white icing. Neither the name nor the appearance are particularly exciting. But the taste is insanely delicious, thanks to an abundance of flavorful spices. Pepper, by the way, is not included, even though the name implies it is.
The same is true for German Pfefferkuchen, which is also referred to as pepper bread. The name probably dates back to the Middle Ages, when the exotic spices were quite commonly referred to as pepper.
Pepper nuts belong to the brown gingerbread, as do dominoes, Basler Läckerli and Printen. Although they belong to the brown gingerbread, their color is rather light as we nowadays prepare them with all-purpose flour. The aromatic note comes from the spices, which vary a little depending on the recipe.
The delicious sweetness of honey provides the perfect balance to the intense spice blend.
The ground walnuts not only give the cookies a flavor kick, but also contribute to the typical consistency of the pepper nuts. The cookies therefore have a very long shelf life because the walnuts keep them from drying out too quickly.
Allspice, cloves and cinnamon are classic spices for Pfeffernusse, some recipes also include ginger and cardamom. In modern recipes, in addition to the classic spices, you'll find citrus flavors that derive from orange and lemon peel. This mellows out the spices and adds a fruity freshness.
Rum is used as a flavor carrier and provides a unique touch to this pastry. In addition, the alcohol helps in baking, as it contributes to the moistness of the pastry.
You can make the "historical" pastry with or without icing. It is not clear whether the original cookies were covered with a glaze. Personally, I find that the sweet coating harmonizes very well with the spicy note.
What Does “Pfeffernusse” Mean In English?
Peffernüsse is a German word. Literally translated it means pepper nuts.
The German word Pfeffernüsse (plural/feminine – die Pfeffernüsse / singular/feminine die Pfeffernuss) included the Umlaut “U” which looks like this “Ü”. Listen to the audio file below to learn how to pronounce the word the proper way.
How To Pronounce "Pfeffernüsse"?
Listen to this audio file to hear how to say "Pfeffernüsse" in German.
Authentic German Pfeffernüsse Recipe
Pfeffernüsse - Spiced Gingerbread Nut Cookies
- 10.5 oz. honey
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ cup butter
- 3 ½ cups flour
- ½ tsp. ground clove
- ½ tsp. ground all spice
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups ground walnuts
- ½ tbsp. cream of tartar
- 4 tbsp. brown rum
- 1 egg
For the Glaze
- 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- In a small saucepan melt honey, butter, and sugar.
- Set aside to cool, stir until lukewarm.
- In a large bowl blend flour, spices, and nuts.
- In a small bowl mix cream of tartar and rum.
- Add egg, rum mixture and lukewarm honey mixture to the large bowl and knead to a firm dough.
- Sprinkle the top with some flour and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Allow the dough to "ripen" refrigerated for 1-3 days. (see notes for more information)
- Knead the dough for a few minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Using a small cookie scoop, place dough on prepared baking sheets.
- Bake for 12-15 min. or until light golden brown.
- Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Mix powdered sugar and lemon juice to a smooth glaze.
- Brush or drizzle over cookies.
- Allow to dry completely before storing in a cookie jar or airtight container.
- Traditionally, the dough ripens for 4 to 8 weeks. This might surprise you and sounds very unconventional, but it really adds a lot of flavor to the dough if you can have the braveness and patience to allow the dough this long ripening time. But the cookies will still taste wonderful if you allow the dough to ripen for only 1-3 days.
- Pfeffernusse are best when you allow them to develop their full flavor and softness after baking. Store them for 4-5 weeks in tin cans before consumption.
History - What Is The History Of Pfeffernusse?
The origin of the delicious cookies is not fully known. The first entries mention Johann Fleischmann. The confectioner from Offenbach am Main / Germany is believed to have created the recipe in 1753. There are records of Goethe in which he praised the cookies for their taste, and Felix Mendelssohn made regular special trips to Offenbach am Main to buy the treat.
It is particularly interesting that the German state of Hesse even serves Pfeffernusse at state receptions.
And mentions of the Christmas cookie can also be found in German literature. In 1820, the Brothers Grimm warned their sister Charlotte against excessive consumption: "Don't eat too much of the Pfeffernüsse! At that time, nutmeg was considered an aphrodisiac and cardamom as stimulating as caffeine.
What Is Unusual About Pfeffernusse? Why Are Peppernuts Called Peppernuts? Do They Really Contain Pepper?
Peppernuts are variations of gingerbread.
In the past, most families used dark rye flour for their Christmas cookies. After baking, the cookies became quite hard, so that they rattled like nuts when banged together.
Spices came from Asia in the Middle Ages and were therefore very expensive due to the long and dangerous transport routes. The most expensive was probably the pepper, which became the synonym for exotic spices. The spice traders used to be called pepper sacks.
Gingerbread and Pfefferkuchen contain exotic spices and were considered a very special treat in the past.
How To Store These Delicious Cookies?
Unlike other homemade cookies, pepper nuts do not taste best freshly made. They develop their full flavor and softness after about 4 to 6 weeks. It is best to store them in tin cans.
Did You Know That There Is a National Pfeffernusse Day?
December 23 is National Pepper Nuts Day. It is believed that the National Pfeffernusse Day is an invention of the US food blogger John-Bryan Hopkins. Why he chose this date, however, is unclear. Traditionally, the cookies are primarily handed out in Germany for St. Nicholas' Day on December 6. In this respect, this date would actually have been the more appropriate choice.
Is Pfeffernusse The Same As Gingerbread?
Pfeffernusse are a special kind of gingerbread aka German Lebkuchen.
Find out more about Lebkuchen in this article. You will find not only some interesting fun facts but also amazing recipes that you need to try!
Where to Buy?
Sometimes we just don´t have the time to bake but still want to enjoy German Christmas cookies. You can find delicious treats in all German delis and European supermarkets near you. But if you live remote or just don´t feel like driving around to find German gingerbread specialties locally, then ordering online offers you a huge variety of German cookies.
I’m hosting an Epiphany dinner for my husband’s family this year and they are German. I can’t wait to make these cookies!
If I want to try to ripen the cookies for 4-8 weeks do I just leave it on my kitchen counter in the plastic wrap and do nothing else?
Angela Schofield says
Hi Stephanie, yes, you can leave the dough out to ripen in a cooler room at room temperature. I usually let it sit in a bowl with lid. I hope you will enjoy the cookies and have lots of fun at the dinner. Have a wonderful day, Angela
Toni McClure says
I am very excited about cooking these cookies. I do have a question regarding leaving a raw egg on the counter for days. Is that okay?
Can I also refrigerate the cookie dough instead of the counter and then bring them to room temperature before cooking?
Thank you. I will let you know how they go.
Angela Schofield says
Hi Toni, I understand your concerns. Groceries are a bit different in the US than in Germany. You could keep the eggs refrigerated and bring them in a warm water bath to room temperature. You can refrigerate the dough instead of having it sitting on the counter. Looking forward to hear how you like the cookies. Have a great day, Angela.