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Pfeffernüsse (German Spice Cookies)

You might not be able to spell the name of these festive German Spice Cookies, but Pfeffernusse are a Christmas treat for anyone who enjoys gingerbread.

Powdered sugared German Pfeffernusse Spice Cookies on a baking rack with text overlayChristmas In Germany

In December in Germany, you will often find Advent calendars counting down the days to Christmas.

You’ll also find Christmas markets selling Christmas decorations, gluhwein (mulled wine), stollen, gingerbread, and other treats.

 

Christmas trees were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages.

Families often set up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve as a way to start the Christmas celebrations. Presents are also typically exchanged on Christmas Eve, when Christkind (a cherub angel representing the Christ child) brings presents for the children.

German Pfeffernusse Spice Cookies on a baking rack

Christmas Day is time to enjoy a large meal celebrated with family.

In Germany December 26th is also a Holiday, to relax or celebrate with family you weren’t able to see the day before.

German Pfeffernüsse Cookies

This year, we decided to make a classic German Christmas cookie, Pfeffernüsse.

Think of these cookies like the German version of a molasses cookie, but spicier, like a gingerbread.

Powdered sugared German Pfeffernusse Spice Cookies on a baking rack horizontal

These spice cookies are soft, dense and chewy.

I can’t stop thinking of gingerbread when I eat them, which is strange, because there isn’t any ginger in there. Rather than ginger, the spiciness in these cookies comes from a mix of cinnamon, anise and pepper.

Pepper? In cookies?

That’s right, there is pepper in these cookies. Don’t give up on them yet. They’re sure to win you over with their warm spiciness.

Pfeffernüsse actually means “pepper nuts,” so the spice in these cookies comes as no surprise.

Inside shot of German Spice Cookies

Contrary to the name’s suggestion however, there are no nuts in these cookies. They get that part of their name from the fact that they are small cookies, about the size of whole nuts.

German Spice Cookies with a loving sugar coating

You will often find Pfeffernüsse coated one of two ways, either with a hard icing coating or a powdered sugar coating.

We’ve gone the powdered sugar route, for the simple fact that it’s a bit easier than the hard icing glaze, but either way, the light sugar coating adds a nice contrast to the spicy cookie.

To get a nice powdered sugar coating, still slightly warm cookies are tossed in powdered sugar, giving them that beautiful snowy coating that brightens the spice with just the right amount of light and airy sweetness.

Powdered sugared German Pfeffernusse Spice Cookies on a baking rack wide shot

It really is the perfect deep and soft, dense and light contrast for this Christmas cookie.

 

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Pfeffernüsse (German Spice Cookies)

Inside shot of German Pfeffernusse Cookies

Pfeffernüsse are a classic German Christmas cookies. This spice cookie is a must-try for any gingerbread lovers!

While not 100% necessary, refrigerating this dough overnight does help the flavors of the cookie really come together.

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • ½ c brown sugar
  • ½ c molasses
  • ¼ c salted butter
  • 2 tsp fresh orange zest, (roughly ½ of a large orange)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 c unbleached all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground anise
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ½ - 1 c powdered sugar, (for coating)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar, molasses, butter, zest and eggs. Beat until light and creamy.
  2. Add the flour and spices to the wet ingredients. Mix by hand until well combined.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball. (It will be slightly sticky.) Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. (While not a 100% necessary step, resting allows the flavors to come together and the peppery-ness of the dough to mellow.)
  4. When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat your oven to 350F. 
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape into 1” balls (roughly 1 Tbsp of dough). (If the dough is too sticky, slightly grease your hands.) Place the dough balls 2” apart on a greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, until puffy and firm to the touch.
  7. Remove the cookies immediately from the baking sheet and let them cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
  8. Place the powdered sugar in a paper bag. Add the cookies 2-3 at a time and toss them in the powdered sugar. (The cookies should be cool enough that the powdered sugar doesn't melt, but warm enough that it slightly sticks.) If necessary, toss the cookies twice in powdered sugar, to get a nice coating.
  9. Return the coated cookies to the wire rack to finish cooling.
  10. Store the pfeffernusse an air-tight container for up to a week.

Notes

This recipe from 2014 was updated in 2018. We made the cookies even better! Enjoy!

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1 cookie

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 150

We’ve updated our pictures since we first shared this recipe, but we’ve left some originals here, in case you’ve found us in the past and are looking for that old, familiar image.

Pfeffernüsse - German Spice Cookies from Curious Cuisiniere

 

Pfeffernüsse - German Spice Cookies from Curious Cuisiniere

 

 

Sharon Seitz

Wednesday 16th of December 2020

Was it okay for me to use anise seed and grind it with a mortar and pestle? I couldn't find ground anise.

Sarah Ozimek

Thursday 17th of December 2020

Yes. That should work great!

K in Vienna

Monday 14th of December 2020

We just made this recipe and were very disappointed. There are several problems but the biggest one is that the cookies are dry. Ours were not overbaked; they were cooked perfectly. It's just a dry recipe. Also there is not nearly enough pepper spice nor enough of the other spices and too much orange zest. You shouldn't be able to taste the orange zest separately but it should blend in with the other flavors. In fact, it is very pronounced. And the cookie itself was barely sweet; it was a cross between savory and sweet. For all the work of chilling dough, shaping, then re-rolling in the confectioner's sugar, we were expecting a delicious outcome. Sadly, we were very disappointed and will look elsewhere for another recipe.

Sarah Ozimek

Monday 14th of December 2020

Hi K. Sorry these Pfeffernusse weren't quite your preference. There are many ways to make them and, while we find the spice to be just right for our tastes and the orange to be balanced, that might not be your cup of tea. (Although I have never found these cookies to taste overly of oranges.) It is possible your spices were old and not as potent as they should be. Or maybe you used too much orange zest. Pfeffernusse are by nature a dryer cookie, so if your 'dry' reference is from other cookies, then pfeffernusse may not be the cookie for you. If baked correctly, ours are actually on the softer/more moist end of some of the pfeffernusse I have tried. As for the sweetness, most of the sweetness in pfeffernusse comes from the powdered sugar (or glaze in some recipes). If you prefer your sweets sweeter, then glazing these might be more your preference. Thank you for your comments, and we hope you find a recipe that suits what you are looking for.

Elfi Johnson

Thursday 10th of December 2020

Omg, I just discovered this site. I am from Austria, born and raised in Bruck an der Mur, Steiermark! I left Austria at age 17, so even though now at age 71 I’m a pretty damn good cook, I never did learn to back typical Austrian Christmas cookies! HELP!!! For instance, where can I find ground almonds? Or ready made vanilla sugar? Or what BRAND of Molasses for Pfeffer Nüsse? Kokus Busserl is another recipe I’m looking for, as is Linzer cookies.... Thank you in advance!

Sarah Ozimek

Thursday 10th of December 2020

Hi Elfi. So glad you found us! You can find ground almonds typically with the baking ingredients labeled "almond meal" or you can grind your own. We typically grind our own, so if all you can find is packaged almond flour, you may need to add a pinch more or less to get the dough of our vanillekipferl to a good consistency. Vanilla sugar is more tricky to find. That's why we have instructions for how to make it yourself in the NOTES section of our vanillekipferl recipe card. As for the molasses to make Pfeffernusse, just your standard "Grandma's Original Molasses" would work well, as would most original molasses. (You just don't want blackstrap.) I don't have a good recipe for the other two, but I will keep an eye out! Happy baking!

Melli

Saturday 14th of November 2020

I love the spices but I find mine a bit hard n dry..appreciate your comment

Sarah Ozimek

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

Hi Melli. Pfeffernusse are characteristically a bit of a drier cookie. If you would like them softer, you could bake them for less time or add a bit less flour. I would also make sure you are doing the overnight resting step, which will help with the dryness.

Arthur Bloch

Friday 7th of August 2020

Loved this recipe. I incorporated a tip from another recipe to make it even easier: After chilling your dough, cut it in half and roll it into two long rolls about 1" thick. Use a knife to cut each roll into 1 1/2" pieces which are then easy to make into evenly sized balls.

Sarah Ozimek

Tuesday 11th of August 2020

Thanks so much for sharing Arthur!

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