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Deliciously spiced old-world Pfeffernüsse Cookies
Try these traditional old-world holiday cookies popular in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
Somewhat similar to Gingerbread, Speculaas and Lebkuchen cookies, Pfeffernüsse typically have a softer, light texture and a hefty helping of warm spices. Pfeffernüsse cookies are unbelievably delicious and loaded with flavor. It’s easy to see why these cookies have been around for ages!
Old-fashioned, traditional Pfeffernüsse were baked into tiny cookies, about the size of a nut, making them easy to eat by the handful. These aromatic treats have been part of European holiday traditions since the 1850’s.
We’ve made our cookies a little larger but they’re still easily eaten in one big bite or two delicious nibbles.
Traditional Pfeffernüsse cookies are sweetened with honey and molasses.
Often referred to as German cookies, Pfeffernüsse have evolved into a little sweeter cookie through the years. The modern versions often include granulated or brown sugar in the cookie dough as well as the traditional honey and molasses.
Present-day spice cookies are rolled in powdered sugar or drizzled with a simple icing, as I’ve done here.
Ingredients needed to make Pfeffernüsse cookies:
For the cookie dough:
- all-purpose flour
- spices: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, white pepper, allspice, cloves and nutmeg
- finely ground almonds, or almond meal/flour
- candied ginger – you can usually find candied ginger in the bulk bins section of your local grocery store.
- cold milk
- unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
- light brown sugar
- unsalted butter
- baking soda
For the glaze:
- powdered sugar
- hot water – adjust to achieve a nice thick glaze consistency
- fresh lemon juice
How to make Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies:
To prepare the cookies:
Start by whisking together the flour, salt, spices and ground almonds until blended. Add the candied ginger and stir to combine.
Next combine the egg and cold milk in a separate bowl. Set aside.
Stir the molasses, honey, brown sugar and butter together in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda. Blend until combined.
Pour the warm honey and molasses into the flour mixture and stir until most of the flour is absorbed. Add the egg and milk then stir, using a wooden spoon or stiff spatula, until blended. Refrigerate the cookie dough for 20 to 30 minutes.
While the cookie dough is chilling, preheat the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Bake until the bottom of the cookies are just starting to brown. Don’t overbake!
Finally, remove to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
To prepare the glaze:
Combine the powdered sugar, hot water and lemon juice. Whisk until blended.
Place one cookie on the tines of a fork. Holding the cookie and fork over the bowl of icing, spoon some of the glaze over the top of the cookie allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place the iced cookie on a wire rack to set.
Once dry store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
Even though the German, Danish and Dutch word Pfeffernüsse translates to ‘pepper nut,’ the original cookie recipe did not contain nuts.
After researching Pfeffernüsse recipes for many years, I finally came up with a recipe we all adore. I’ve combined some of the basics from 4 different recipes to come up with our (non-authentic) version.
I’ve included ground almonds and candied ginger in mine, which are both non traditional ingredients.
Many Pfeffernüsse recipes call for candied lemon peel or candied orange peel. You are welcome to substitute one of those in place of the candied ginger in our recipe. Candied orange peel is particularly lovely with this combination of spices.
Can you freeze Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies?
Our Pfeffernüsse cookies freeze very well. Allow the icing to set and dry completely then store in an airtight container layered between sheets of wax or parchment paper. Seal the container by wrapping in foil, and freeze for up to 30 days.
Our spice cookies taste even better after they’ve had time to age. They’re the perfect make-ahead holiday cookie!
These cookies also hold up very well, making them great for shipping.
I recommend freezing the cookies first, then packing tightly to ship to loved ones for the holidays. These cookies don’t crumble or fall apart easily making them a terrific choice for travel.
Finally, have I mentioned that these cookies are absolutely delicious? These beloved Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies taste just like Christmas!
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Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies
For the cookie dough:
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (325g)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- ⅓ cup sliced almonds, finely ground (or almond meal/flour) (30g)
- ⅓ cup candied ginger, minced (60g)
- 1 large egg, cold
- 2 tablespoons cold milk
- ⅓ cup unsulphured molasses, not blackstrap (115g)
- ⅓ cup honey (115g)
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, packed (55g)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30g)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
For the glaze:
- 2 ½ cups powdered sugar (265g)
- 1 ½ tablespoons hot water, more or less for desired consistency
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
To prepare the cookies:
- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt, spices and ground almonds until blended. Add the candied ginger and stir to combine.
- In a small bowl whisk together the egg and 2 tablespoons cold milk. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan combine the molasses, honey, brown sugar and butter. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda. Blend until combined.
- Pour the warm honey and molasses mixture into the flour mixture and stir until most of the flour is absorbed. Add the egg and milk mixture and stir, using a wooden spoon, or stiff spatula, until blended. Refrigerate the cookie dough for 20 to 30 minutes.
- While the cookie dough is chilling, preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a small cookie scoop, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat spacing the dough balls 1-inch apart.
- Bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until the bottom of the cookies are just starting to brown. Do not overbake.
- Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare the glaze:
- In a small deep bowl, combine the powdered sugar, hot water and lemon juice. Whisk until blended. Place one cookie on the tines of a fork. Holding the cookie, and fork, over the bowl of icing, spoon some of the glaze over the top of the cookie allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place the iced cookie on a wire rack to set.
- Once dry, store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Freeze dried cookies, well wrapped, for up to 30 days.
- Optional: Roll the hot cookies in powdered sugar in place of the lemon glaze.
- You may need additional glaze to ice all the cookies depending on how thick you make it. I recommend making one recipe of the glaze, then another half recipe if needed. The icing hardens quickly. Thin the icing if needed with a teaspoon of hot water.
- Substitute candied orange peel or candied lemon peel in place of the ginger, if desired.
- Freeze the cookies, well sealed in an airtight container, for up to 30 days.
- Pfeffernüsse inspired by recipes on Simply Recipes, food.com, America’s Test Kitchen and Saveur.
Here are a few more recipes you might also enjoy:
Speculaas Spiced Cookies
Burnt Sugar Almonds
Originally published December 2019, updated with a video November 2020
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