Pfeffernusse ~ German Pepper Nut Cookies

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Have you heard of Pfeffernusse? These cookies are a popular holiday treat in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands. Pfeffernusse are small, round cookies filled with ground spices, molasses, and brown sugar.

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of these German cookies.

Pfeffernusse

I was chatting with my friend Wendy and she asked if I knew how to make pfeffernusse cookies.

Thanks to a quick Google search and a bit of further research, I’m happy to say that I now know how to make them. I’ve very lightly adapted this recipe from and with thanks to Food.com.

And while these cookies bear a powdered sugar-coated resemblance to Mexican Wedding Cookies, that’s where the similarity stops. Pfeffernusse are a fully spiced flavor-packed cookie that is a German holiday tradition.

Pfeffernusse Cookies

Similar to a gingerbread cookie in fragrance, the anise in these cookies is the dominant flavor, with the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and black pepper vying for the next spot in line.

Also called Peppernut Cookies, the pepper doesn’t make these cookies spicy, but it is definitely present. Not all recipes include the pepper, but it was a fun ingredient to work with, so I chose to include it.

German Pfeffernusse Cookies

Pfeffernusse Spices

A note about all the spices: if you have a store near you that sells spices in bulk, I recommend buying just the tiny amounts needed.

I picked up a teaspoon or so of both the cardamom and the anise for about $.10 and I still have some left in the spice cupboard. If you have a Sprouts Farmers Market near you, that’s a great place to look.

Like any great cookie recipe, there are endless variations. Some people like to eat these cookies while they are still crisp on the outside and chewy inside, other people choose to let them harden for a week (similar to biscotti) and then dunk them in coffee before eating them.

Pfeffernusse (aka Pepper Nut Cookies)

Pfeffernusse are some of the most richly fragrant and flavorful cookies I have ever made.

These heavily spiced cookies are so beloved in many European countries, there is a National Pfeffernusse Holiday celebrated in their honor on December 23rd.

If you are a fan of black licorice, you just might fall in love with these cookies. Licorice happens to be one of my least favorite flavors and these cookies didn’t tempt me at all.

However, my husband loved them and told me repeatedly that they were better than any he remembered from his childhood.

Pfeffernusse Holiday Cookies
  1. Combine the butter, brown sugar and molasses in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add the egg and beat to combine. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and all of the spices.
  2. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat to combine. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough and roll into a ball between your palms. Place the dough balls on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 13-14 minutes, until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes.
  5. Place the powdered sugar in a medium-sized container with a lid. Drop a few cookies at a time into the powdered sugar. Cover with a lid and shake gently to coat.
  6. Transfer the coated cookies to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. Repeat with all the cookies. Store in an airtight container.
Pfeffernusse - German Christmas Cookies

When I asked on our Facebook Page if you had ever heard of Pfeffernusse, the response was overwhelming.

What other cookies should I know about? I’d love to hear about your family’s favorite holiday treats!

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German Pfeffernusse Cookies

Pfeffernusse ~ German Pepper Nut Cookies

4.74 from 23 votes
Pfeffernusse are small, round German cookies filled with ground spices, molasses, and brown sugar. Perfect when served with a cup of hot coffee.
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Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Chill Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 1 hr 35 mins
Servings: 36 cookies

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed as finely crushed as possible
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions

  • Combine the butter, brown sugar and molasses in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add the egg and beat to combine. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and all of the spices. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat to combine. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of cookie dough and roll into a ball between your palms. Place the dough balls on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Bake for 13-14 minutes, until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes.
  • Place the powdered sugar in a medium sized container with a lid. Drop a few cookies at a time into the powdered sugar. Cover with a lid and shake gently to coat. Transfer the coated cookies to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. Repeat with all the cookies. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 97kcal · Carbohydrates: 17g · Protein: 1g · Fat: 3g · Saturated Fat: 2g · Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g · Monounsaturated Fat: 1g · Trans Fat: 1g · Cholesterol: 11mg · Sodium: 74mg · Potassium: 52mg · Fiber: 1g · Sugar: 11g · Vitamin A: 86IU · Vitamin C: 1mg · Calcium: 12mg · Iron: 1mg
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{originally published 9/26/13 – recipe notes and photos updated 11/9/21}

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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  1. Linda says

    I read your description and was very confused. I also detest the flavor of black licorice and I loved these cookies, I’m sure there are many variations but I always made them from a Joy of Cooking recipe: no anise or allspice, less pepper, more cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Also storing with a slice of apple keeps them soft. Just in case you’re willing to give them another chance!

    • Mary Younkin says

      I’m thrilled that you loved the cookies, Linda! There are several variations and many people do love them in all forms. My husband still LOVES these cookies so much, but just that tiny hint of anise is too much for me. I suspect it’s something like cilantro for people who can’t stand that herb. I can definitely tell when anise is in anything and the fragrance is too close to licorice for me.

  2. Katie T says

    SO delicious!! That said, the dough will not make 3 dozen cookies when you use 2 TBS for each cookie. In the photos, the cookies look much smaller than that, as well. I am guessing 2 TSP is the correct amount of dough per cookie, but I think they would be good either way.

    I refrigerated the dough overnight, used a little over 1 TBS dough per cookie (got exactly 2 dozen) and baked for 14 minutes.

    These cookies are NOT bland but you could pump up the flavor a bit more if you’re into spicy cookies.5 stars

  3. Teresa Benson says

    Yes! These are closest to what I remember my oma making. Hers were dark, spicy, and shaped like little round nuts. Always along side the coffee of grownups during winter months.5 stars

  4. 30sumthing says

    The taste was good but they ended up undercooked and they spread terribly. I weighed my flour but this recipe needed more flour and time for me. Would probably try a different recipe next time.2 stars

    • Mary Younkin says

      Hi there, I don’t weigh my flour, so odds are good that a measurement by the cup would work better. Glad the taste was good, but sorry to hear that they spread out on you.

  5. Carol G says

    Another German cookie that I make for Christmas are Springerle. They have anise seed in them and take about 1 day to make. After you roll them out with a Springerle rolling pin they have to air dry before baking. The family looks forward to these very special once a year cookie.5 stars

  6. Susan Harju says

    Love This!
    My Grandma made these….except, hers were about the size of a thumbnail, and, hard as a rock. The excellent treat we got, was a handful of them in a cup of coffee. (We still think she used the same grounds, all…day…long….
    Anyway we let them soak and ate them with a spoon….still a bit of crunch left in the middle.
    Wonderful Memories.

  7. Dorothy Abel says

    I definitely need to make these cookies! My grandparents were all born in Germany so we always ate these cookies at Christmas time. My Mom and Dad both loved them, especially with a cup of coffee! My parents are both gone now so I haven’t bought the cookies in ages. Time to make them myself!

  8. Judy Nachtigal says

    These cookies were a part of my German Mennonite Brethren upbringing. In Low German, we called them pay-pa-nate. We always had them during the Christmas season.
    You’re right, there are many variations. I even have a little recipe book, given to me by my mother 40 years ago, just with over 25 different Peppernut recipes, along with drawings and descriptions. My favorite is Crisp Peppernuts. They are about 3/4 inch big, and are crispy not hard. As a child, I used to sneak a bunch into my pockets. Yum!
    I must get out the recipe this year.5 stars

  9. Wyndy Rausenberger says

    Is there an ad covering the ingredients list? I don’t see that portion of the recipe. I don’t want to give a bad rating, but can’t make them.

    • Mary Younkin says

      If you’re running an ad blocker, you won’t be able to see the printable recipe card with the ingredient list. If you aren’t running a blocker, you can click the handy “jump to recipe” button at the top of the page and it will take you directly to the ingredient list. Enjoy!

  10. Bev Kraus says

    Hi Judy, Is your German Mennonite background from Henderson, Nebraska. Your name sounds familiar. I wonder if our recipes are from that group. – Bev Goertzen Kraus5 stars

  11. Linnea Novicki says

    I hadn’t heard of these cookies and wanted to try baking them. I left out the anise as I didn’t have any and added 1/4 tsp. Cinnamon and 1/4 allspice instead. On first bite I wasn’t sure if I liked them but as I try them I really like them more and more with my coffee. They are different. I gave one to my grandson to try and he liked them. I may try the anise the next time. They aren’t really sweet but a nice difference. Thank you for all the wonderful recipes.5 stars

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