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 last week, I had never heard of these German cookies.

Pfeffernusse ~ German Pepper Nut Cookies recipe by Barefeet In The Kitchen

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

Thanks to a quick Google search and a tiny bit of further research, I’m happy to say that I now know how to make them. (And there is a package making its way to her now!)

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.

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 ~ German Pepper Nut Cookies recipe by Barefeet In The Kitchen

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.

When I asked on the 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!

Pfeffernusse cookies in jar - get the recipe at barefeetinthekitchen.com
  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.

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Pfeffernusse cookies in jar - get the recipe at barefeetinthekitchen.com

Pfeffernusse ~ German Pepper Nut Cookies

4.69 from 19 votes
Recipe slightly adapted from and with thanks to Food.com
Pin Print Review
Servings: 3 dozen 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!
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{originally published 9/26/13 – recipe notes and photos updated 11/27/18}

Pfeffernusse (a.k.a. German Pepper Nut Cookies) - get the recipe at barefeetinthekitchen.com

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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.

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