Perhaps the perfect Christmas cookie for spice lovers, Pfeffernüsse are German Iced Spice Cookies that are also favored in the Netherlands and Denmark. They are packed full of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and even a bit of pepper (hence the name “pepper nuts.” With a nice chewy texture and glossy sweet icing, these cookies will quickly become family favorites!
In addition to the outstanding Vanillekipferl (Austrian vanilla crescent cookies) I shared a couple days ago, I made two other Christmas cookie recipes hailing from Central Europe. On today’s agenda we are visiting Germany and sampling Pfeffernüsse, which literally translates to “peppernuts.” These spice cookies are popular not only in Germany, but also in Denmark and the Netherlands, where they are called pebernødder and pepernoten respectively.
The name is derived from the inclusion of pepper as one of the many spices, and the cookie’s size and shape, which are reminiscent of whole nuts. Other spices in these bite size cookies include cinnamon, cloves, allspice, mace, and anise. These pfeffernüsse are packed with an intense spice flavor that will truly tantalize your taste buds!
Honey and brown sugar sweeten these morsels, which can either be tossed in powdered sugar or dipped in shiny white icing after baking. Since my Vanillekipferl where already coated in white dust, I opted to glaze my pfeffernüsse instead. Not only do I adore how they look enrobed in sweet icing, I love the way the icing complements the flavor punch of spices in each soft, chewy bite.
Note that many old school recipes for pfeffernüsse use baker’s ammonia as leavening as opposed to more common baking soda or baking powder. It can be harder to find, and likely not very useful if you’re not baking other recipes that require it. Many recipes for pfeffernüsse nowadays will instead include baking powder or baking soda. The resulting texture will be slightly different than if one were to use baker’s ammonia, but I personally have no complaints. My cookies are DELICIOUS and have a wonderful chewy texture that I’m crazy about.
Also, like other European gingerbread cookie recipes, this is one that traditionally is baked with little to no fat, and requires a few days at least to soften to the right texture before it can be eaten. Many recipes have circumvented these issues by adding butter, so they can be enjoyed immediately. I’m super impressed with the way these turned out, even if German grandmothers might bake them differently.
Fun fact: December 23rd is National Pfeffernüsse Day, so now you have double the reasons to make a batch of your own pfeffernüsse to celebrate!
Pfeffernüsse (German Iced Spice Cookies)
- 2 1/2 cups (310 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/16 teaspoon pinch ground aniseed
- 1/2 cup (100 g) packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (113 g) honey
- 5 tablespoons (74 g) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 large egg
- 2 1/2 cups (300 g) powdered sugar
- 4 to 5 tablespoons water less water will result in a thicker and whiter glaze
- In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and spices. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan combine the brown sugar, honey, butter, and cream and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Stir the honey-butter mixture into the flour mixture until almost fully combined, then add the egg and continue to mix until smooth. The dough will be sticky, and have a glossy sheen. Scrape it out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and wrap it tightly. Refrigerate the dough overnight or up to a two days.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, and set aside.
- Remove the dough from the plastic wrap, cut it into four pieces, and roll each into a 3/4-inch thick strand. Slice the dough into 3/4-inch lengths, and roll each into a ball approximately 3/4-inch in diameter. Work quickly while the dough is still chilled. Place the balls about 1 inch apart on parchment lined-sheet pans. Bake one pan while you are finishing rolling the balls for the second pan.
- Bake cookies one pan at a time on the center rack of the oven for 15 minutes or until domed, and dry on top. Remove and let the cookies cool completely.
- To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and water until smooth. Using less water will yield a thicker, whiter glaze while adding a bit more water will result in a slightly thinner but still opaque glaze which will be a bit easier to drip off the excess.
- Dip each cookie, top side down, in the glaze, letting the excess drip off. Place them on a wire rack positioned over piece of parchment paper or foil to catch the drips. Let the glaze dry until it is fully hardened.
- Store the cookies in airtight container in a cool place. Cookies will keep for several weeks.
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