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.

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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.

Another powdered sugar-covered tradition from my grandmother’s kitchen are Sugar and Spice Butter Balls.

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

4.80 from 29 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 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Chill Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
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
Tried this recipe?Mention @barefeetkitchen or tag #barefeetkitchen!

{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. Patricia says

    A GREAT spice cookie. I made them in honor of Sandra Boynton’s National Pfeffernusse Day on Dec 23. I made them exactly as written, in spite of being leery of the pepper and anise, which I usually don’t like. I refrigerated them overnight, just since that was what was convenient. I obviously rolled them a bit smaller (using the large end of a melon baller) but I like small cookies and then they go further. A couple of challenges. After 13 minutes, I could put a substantial dent in the cookies. Hmmm. So I left them another minute. The same. I left them in one more minute (total of 15 minutes) and then took them out. They firmed right up after 3 minutes. I left in the next batch only 14 minutes. I think the 13 minutes would work the best for my oven. The problems I had was the rolling in sugar. If the powdered sugar is supposed to be fairly thick, then rolling them after baking would be fine. I tried rolling one batch before, but those didn’t turn out very well. Some weren’t rolled at all and they are stilled great, albeit not traditional. The next time, and there will be a next time, I am going to try rolling them in granulated sugar. Again, not traditional, but I bet they will be great. I do my ginger cookies that way.5 stars