All I Want for Christmas is Cookies: Pfeffernusse

by Sara Mead

I come from a part of Michigan where lots of German families settled in the mid-1800s, so a lot of the traditional Christmas cookies I remember receiving as a kid are of German origin. These Pfeffernusse cookies aren’t from my family’s tradition, but they’re pretty good. These are more peppery than some folks might like. Although a lot of Pfeffernusse recipes out there call for black pepper, I was advised by some people whose grandmothers were German that white pepper was more authentic (and to double the amount  in most recipes). Since I was out of white pepper, and my go-to place for buying pepper is Eden Center, I recently found myself in a Vietnamese shopping center buying, among other things, ingredients for a German cookie, and I thought “damn, I love my country.”


  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting


  1. Stir together the molasses, honey, shortening, and margarine in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until creamy. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the eggs.
  2. Combine the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, anise, cinnamon, baking soda, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture and stir until thoroughly combines. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Roll the dough into acorn-sized balls. Arrange on baking sheets, spacing at least 1 inch apart.
  4. Bake in preheated oven 10 to 15 minutes. Move to a rack to cool. Dust cooled cookies with confectioners’ sugar.

5 responses to “All I Want for Christmas is Cookies: Pfeffernusse

  1. Yes, yes! Growing up in Minnesota, my German mother always made these at Christmas, and they’re still my favorite holiday cookie. But after going to the trouble of hunting down white pepper, surely you wouldn’t want to go and ruin them by using margarine instead of butter?

  2. Well, this is a whole other post that I’ll write some day, but I actually think butter in baking is overrated. A lot of the old family recipes I have are from people who learned to bake during the Depression and WWII and call for margarine or “oleo” rather than butter; I’ve made most of them both ways and in some cases I prefer the margarine version. (I do think butter is superior in cooking and straight eating, though.) Also, I have some friends who can’t/don’t eat dairy, and using margarine produces cookies they can eat.

  3. Oh, this post made me grin: I LOVE Pfeffernusse. Growing up in a town with a significant number of German immigrants, they were a staple of Christmas growing up. And their great taste is only amplified by the fun of saying the name over and over again…

  4. Pingback: Best Things I Cooked/Baked/Mixed in 2009 « The Internet Food Association

  5. I am definitely trying these!

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