Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Kinder, Gentler Pfeffernüsse from Cleo Coyle



Like any recipe that's been around for several hundred years, there are countless variations of the German cookie pfeffernüsse (aka "pepper nuts"), and I've made several. Some bakers, for example, put finely chopped nuts into their "pepper nuts. Some don't. 
Cleo Coyle, baker of
a kinder, gentler
pfeffernüsse, and author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries
Some bakers like to add a potent amount of black or white pepper into the cookie, giving them very peppery bite. Some add ground cloves. 


The version I'm sharing with you today is my favorite way to make it: soft on the inside but with a light crispness on the outside shell. No nuts to take away from the contrast of spicy, delicious gingerbread flavor with the sweet dusting of powdered sugar.


My version also takes a kinder, gentler approach to the spice aspect, using only a pinch of pepper and leaning more heavily on the ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. (Allspice, I find, delivers that ground clove flavor at a much lower price.)





BTW: I've encountered people who are under the impression that allspice is a spice mix (like pumpkin pie spice). Not so. Allspice is actually a pea-sized berry that mimics the flavors of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The berry comes from the evergreen pimiento tree, grown in South America and the West Indies, including Jamaica.






Cleo Coyle's Pfeffernüsse "Pepper Nuts"
German gingerbread snowball cookies



To get a free PDF version of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, just click here.


Ingredients

3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 pinches of ground white (or black) pepper 
¾ cup butter (1-1/2 sticks), softened
½ cup white, granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses, unsulphered (not blackstrap!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered (confectioners' or icing) sugar (for double-dusting)

Yields: 4 to 5 dozen cookies, depending on size

Mix the dough: Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices. Set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the softened butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add in egg, molasses, and vanilla. Now gradually add in the dry flour mixture, blending just until the dough comes together. (Do not overwork this dough or you’ll produce gluten in the flour, which will toughen your cookies.)

Chill the dough: Form dough into a disc or ball. Wrap in plastic and allow to rest in refrigerator for two hours or overnight. (The resting allows the dough to hydrate and the flavors to develop for better tasting cookies.)

Bake the cookies: When ready to bake, break off small pieces of dough and roll into balls. I make mine a little less than 1-inch in diameter. If you prefer a softer cookie, roll balls larger. Bake 12 to 16 minutes, depending on oven and whether you’re using parchment or a silicon sheet. You’re looking for the cookies to bake up a nice, golden brown and crack slightly on the surface. For softer cookies, underbake them.






Cleo’s double dusting: While the cookies are still very warm, roll them in powdered sugar. The heat of each cookie will melt the sugar into a lovely, light crust of glaze. After the cookies have cooled a bit more, roll them a second time and you’ll have your final snowball dusting. These are the perfect treat to leave for Santa on a snowy Christmas Eve.





Storage tips: Make sure your cookies are completely cool before storing in an airtight container. When cookies are stored warm, condensation can occur, turning your treats soggy. Of course, you can always serve them warm and...

Eat with Joy to the World!



Merry Christmas,
Everyone!
 
   
  ~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries


To get more of my recipes, 
find out more about my books,
or sign up to win free coffee,
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HOLIDAY GRIND
by Cleo Coyle



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31 comments:

  1. Gingerbread snowballs! I could just reach out and eat some Pfeffernüsse right now. And interesting tidbits, too, from allspice to Santa! My daughter will love the Santa tracker...thanks. :)

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  2. Perfect! This is exactly the "one more kind" I've been wanting to bake this week. I love the sound of your version, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, so I'll be following your directions exactly (though I'm such a chilehead, I'm tempted to load 'em with pepper). I can't wait to eat me some pfefferneuse!

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  3. Oh my gosh!! Pfeffernusse!! I am so, so excited, Cleo. More than you can even imagine. My mom used to always have pfeffernusse for us on Christmas, but it was the store-bought kind. My mom, as I might have mentioned, was not a cookie baker. But pfeffernusse was a staple in her house at Christmas (even early at Thanksgiving sometimes) and in my grandmother's house at Christmas in Luxembourg when she was a girl. My brother and I (and now my kids) all love pfeffernusse, but it's getting more and more difficult to find. Smack me upside the head - I never even thought about making my own. But now you've dropped this lovely Christmas gift right into my lap and I will most definitely run out for allspice today (that's the only ingredient I don't have on hand).

    By the way, what is "blackstrap"? I have molasses here (for gingerbread. Made some, but it's already disappeared), and I'm about to go check it's sulphured-ness.

    Thank you so much, Cleo!! I am ridiculously excited about this recipe this morning. I can't thank you enough!!!

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  4. Um... did I really put an apostrophe in its (above)???
    Ugh. I hate that. One of my pet peeves. Can you tell I was so excited I lost control of my brain?
    Sorry -
    "its sulphuredness"
    Gak!

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  5. My mother's side of the family is of German heritage. She didn't bake, thought, so she bought Pfeffernusse and was always excited to see them in the stores around the holidays.

    My daughter was an exchange student in Germany, and she liked the memories of these when she came home, so I baked them once or twice. I'll send her this recipe.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  6. I have a tin of all spice and I didn't know that!
    I assumed it was a mix. Wow. Love the recipe. Those cookies divine. Thanks for sharing, Cleo!

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  7. Replies to...

    @Elizabeth - Thanks for the kind words. Oh, I hope your daughter enjoys watching Santa make his rounds. Norad does a fantastic job with little videos and reports. It gets better every year. :)

    @Laineshots - This is one recipe where you can really make the spice mix your own. If you end up baking them with Laine's own chile-peppery twist, I'd love to know what you do and how it turns out.

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  8. Oh, I love pffernusse! Haven't been able to buy any locally since Safeway went out of business in our area of the boonies 10 or 15 years ago. I tried making them once with an elaborate recipe & wasn't pleased with the results, so I'm happy to have your easier version! Thanks for reminding me of these delicious treats, Cleo!

    Julie, "Grandma's" brand of molasses is the most common found in the grocery stores, and it's unsulphured. It's the finest quality for baking, the first boiling of the sugar cane. Hope that helps.

    Merry Christmas!

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  9. Replies to...

    @Julie - Oh, you made my day! I'm thrilled and delighted the pfeffernusse recipe brought back good memories for you. :) I grew up with lots of Italian Christmas cookies, of course, and some of those recipes have made their way into my mysteries. But I also grew up in Western PA, where many different European immigrants settled, and I fell in love with their foods, as well. I've always associated gingerbread and its many incarnations with Christmas, so this was one recipe I really looked forward to posting. I hope you and your family enjoy it.

    To answer you Q about blackstrap - Here's the deal. Molasses is juice from a sugar cane plant that’s been boiled down to concentrate it. The first and second boiling give you the sweetest versions of the product. The third boiling gives you blackstrap, which is less sweet in taste, even somewhat bitter.

    In my opinion, blackstrap is just fine in things like BBQ sauce and chili but not in desserts or baked goods like this one. I know some bakers do use blackstrap in cookies and such, but I think it ruins the flavor. (For me, it carries a medicinal tinge.)

    I’m with Lynn in Texas, BTW. (Thank you, Lynn!) Grandmother’s brand “gold standard” Original Molasses is what I use.

    On the unsulphured thing. Most molasses that you see in grocery stores will be unsulphured (or unsulfured as an alternate spelling). As I understand it: Unsulphured means your molasses came from mature sugar cane – a good thing. In sulphured molasses, sulphur dioxide is added in the production process to help extract juice from sugar cane that was not mature but still very young and green. BTW, you know I'm the queen of typos so no worries on the its it's: Gak is my middle name.

    Have a great holiday week with you family, Julie! May you all feast with joy!

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    More replies to come...

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  10. Replies to...


    @Terry - Eating pfeffernusse IN Germany -- now there's a wondrous excperience. :) I hope your daughter enjoys the recipe!

    @Jenn - Thanks for dropping by! I know this week's got to be crazy for you. I hope you, Chris, and "the hooligans" have a beautiful Christmas.

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  11. Replies to...

    @Lynn in Texas - I am absolutely delighted that you'll be trying my take on this classic cookie! I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for jumping in on the molasses discussion. I completely agree with you on Grandmother's brand. I use it, too, and love it. Merry Christmas, Lynn!

    @Juju - Thank you! Feliz Navidad, my dear!

    Bake with joy,
    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  12. These are one of my all-time favorite cookies! I can't wait to make them. What beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing.

    Merry Christmas!

    ~Avery
    AveryAames.com

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  13. Cleo,
    Mr. Nanc's mom was a superb baker. She regularly baked over 25 different types of Christmas cookies...beginning on Thanksgiving. Me...not so many ;-) But I always go on a search for pfeffernusse, as it is his favorite of all the ones his mom made!! I can't promise they will be made by Christmas but by the time the ball drops we will have homemade pfeffernusse at Chez Phillipe!!! This may be a good project for Chef Connor and his able assistant Emily!
    Our entire family wishes you and Mar and the kitties a most blessed and joyous Christmas and a wonder filled New Year!
    Nanc

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  14. Evidently it's German Christmas week here at MLK! I love cookies with pepper in them. It seems like a weird ingredient for cookies, but that bit of flavor makes such a difference. Love the double dusting, Cleo!

    ~ Krista

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  15. Interesting...I just love the recipe and the photos! Thanks for sharing!

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  16. the outside look is similar like "kourabiethes" that we cook these days here in Greece!
    you can take a look here -> http://eatgreek.net/2010/12/kourabiethes/
    hehe! Merry Christmas!!! :D

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  17. Is unsulphered molasses enough different from blackstrap if someone has problems with blackstrap? If not, what would you sub for it. This recipe appeals to my German heratige and I would love to try it. Also, I would love to see some Celtic (especially Irish) recipes in the future.

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  18. Wonderful recipe! My Oma (Swiss grandmother) always made such wonderful cookies such as this for the holidays and now I'm slowly but surely gathering her recipes.. your pfeffernusse looks delicious. Happy Holidays :)

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  19. Very excited about this, Cleo -- my grandma couldn't smell (bad adenoid removal when she was young), so she liked *strong* flavors. She made a rock-hard version of this with lots of black pepper ... they were nasty with a capital "N". In honor of her, I'm going to try your more palatable version. :)

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  20. Replies to...

    @Nanc - Thank you so much for the beautiful holiday wishes. This recipe is a snap to make. I'll bet Chef Connor (and his lovely assistant Emily) gives you his own twist on the spice mix by the end of the day. Tell CC I was tempted to experiment with white-chocolate glaze for these babies but decided to keep it closer to traditional looking after all. Warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your wonderful family.

    ~ Cleo

    More replies to come...

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  21. Replies to...

    @Krista - Fröhliche Weihnachten!!! With your roast goose and my pfeffernusse, I'd say all we need is some fine German beer. And IMO all German beer is fine. :)

    @Avery and...
    @Sandra - You are most welcome! Thank you for dropping by. Enjoy the holidays!

    ~ Cleo

    More replies to come...

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  22. Replies to...

    @Livya at EatGreek.net - Amazing how many cultures have similar cookies. Your Greek cookies remind me more of Russian teacakes or even Mexican Wedding cookies. On the outside, they look similar but on the inside, the pfeffernusse are a lot spicier! Your web site is wonderful! For anyone who would like to visit Livya and see some of her Greek foodie posts (including great ideas for Greek Christmas treats), follow this link >> Eat Greek.net Simple Greek Recipes Cheers, Livya and thank you for dropping by our virtual Kitchen.

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  23. @Catherine Lane - Scroll back up through the comments and find my reply to Julie. You'll see a long discussion on molasses. In brief...

    Blackstrap molasses is a type of molasses that is more bitter than sweet. Buy a molasses that says unsulphured on the label and does NOT say blackstrap and you'll have what you need for this recipe. I use Grandmother's Brand Original Molasses. (If the molasses jar or bottle in your hand does not say blackstrap, then it's a first or second boiling and sweet enough for this recipe. Most molasses sold in grocery stores is unsulphured. Look for that word on the label, too. For more explanation, scroll up to my reply to Julie.) Happy baking!

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  24. @Evan@ Sweets - God Bless your Oma! My Italian-born mom and Aunt Mary were the ones baking up Christmas cookies when I was a little girl. But because my youth included many neighbors who were immigrants from Europe, including Germany, Poland, and Russia, I yearn for all sorts of foods during the holidays (pfeffernusse included)! Thank you for stopping by, Evan. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    @Wendy - OMG, you cracked me up. God bless your grandma, too. I think you'll find these work a little better in the flavor department and (huzzah!) you can bite into them right away, no need to mellow them till Valentine's Day. :) In fact, my take on this cookie has their texture going the opposite way. They harden as they cool. (For even softer cookies, simply roll the dough larger and underbake.) Cheers, Wendy, and Happy Holidays!


    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  25. Okay, I baked these this morning (after letting the dough chill overnight), and I can testify that they are as scrumptious as they look! I wouldn't change a thing about them. The pepper (okay, I cheated and used a generous pinch of habanero powder) is not gasp-worthy, it just wakes up the flavor of the spices. They're crisp on the outside and soft inside, and they smell like heaven when they're baking. Thanks again, Cleo...I am indeed eating these with Joy To The World (sung by Bing Crosby)!

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  26. And now I have a batch chilling in my refrigerator! The dough tasted wonderful (okay, tell me you all don't eat cookie dough). I even had allspice in the cabinet. But then, I also have galengal, which I bought because I love the name--I have no idea what to do with it.

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  27. Hi Cleo, I read all the comments before I posted. My question is because we tried a recipe that called for blackstrap and had a Severe allergic reaction to it and threw it out, blackstrap, recipe, product,and mixing bowl (Hook, line, and sinker reaction). We are leery to try anything that might cause a similiar reaction. We love your recipes and would love to try this cookie.
    Catherine, Crystal, and Bob Lane

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  28. Replies to...(going backward)

    @Catherine - Hi again. Okay, first of all (so no one is confused), my pfeffernusse recipe does not use blackstrap molasses. “No Blackstrap!” This recipe calls for first or second boiling of molasses. The label should simply say "unsulphured molasses" and that's it. Catherine: If you and your family are allergic to molasses, then by all means use maple syrup, honey, or some other "treacle" like dark corn syrup. I can't promise the cookie will be as good. For one thing, it will have a very different texture (most likely harder), but at least you can eat it. Or, better yet, check out today's post from my fellow crime-writing cook, Avery Aames, and bake a cookie that doesn't use an ingredient that is problematic for you and your family. :)

    Happy Baking!
    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  29. Replies to...(going backward)

    @Sheila Connolly - Yes! I confess. I too am an eater of cookie dough. :) I also confess that I had to look up galengal. What a fascinating spice! Ginger without the heat - so many uses for that. You are such a fantastic cook (and writer!), I'm looking forward to your posts in the New Year! In the meantime, have a delicious Christmas weekend.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    ReplyDelete
  30. Reply to...

    @Laine of Laineshots - I'm thrilled to hear that you made and enjoyed the recipe! The spice mix is just perfect for me as I've written it, but this is one recipe that allows for all kinds of spice experimentation. I know many bakers out there will have fun tweaking the spices in the recipe to make it their own.

    Warmest wishes for a happy holiday!
    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    ReplyDelete