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Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies)

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These Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies) are small spice cookies that are sweetened with molasses and brown sugar. Our version has an extra spicy kick from black pepper and a unique flavor from anise and cardamom. You are going to love these cookies!

Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies)
These delicious spicy cookies are called Pfeffernusse or German spice cookies.

Pfeffernusse are German spice cookies that originally evolved from gingerbread. They have a different spice mix than gingerbread and are shaped into round balls and covered in a thick sugar coating.

Yes, you read that correctly. There is pepper in this cookie recipe. Most recipes for pfeffernusse call for pepper, white pepper to be precise.  The pepper adds a subtle but unique zest and is really worth adding to the batter.

We don’t typically have white pepper laying around and have not found a difference in flavor after substituting regular black pepper. Feel free to use white pepper if you want a more authentic pfeffernusse cookie.

This recipe also has an anise flavor and a delightfully sweet sugar glaze. Initially, after baking them they will be a bit hard and make great dipping cookies, however, they are even better if they are eaten a few days later when they soften up and their flavors deepen.

Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)
Dipping cookies in sugar syrup then coating them with powdered sugar makes a thick sugar coating.

Creating a Thick Sugar Coating

There is a thick snow-white sugar coating on these spicy cookies.  The sugar coating is a must and turns the cookies into little round snowballs. To make the coating, we dipped the cookies in an anise-flavored sugar syrup then rolled them in powdered sugar.

After the powdered sugar sits for a while, it absorbs the wet sugar syrup and looks a bit goopy. That is exactly what you want it to do! A second dip in the powdered sugar gives it a completed look and a thick sugar coat.

Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)
Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)

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Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)

Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies)

An easy recipe for Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies) that are sweetened with brown sugar and molasses and a nice balance of spices plus a bonus of anise.
4.84 from 31 votes
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Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Additional Time: 9 hours
Total Time: 9 hours 32 minutes
Calories: 126kcal
Author: Dahn Boquist

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter softened (2 ounces)
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar 157 grams
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses 170 grams
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons hot water
  • 3 cups all purpose flour 360 grams
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons whole anise seeds
  • ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Sugar Coating

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon anise seeds crushed
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium high speed until smooth. Beat in the egg and molasses until well blended. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water then add it to the mixture and beat well.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, anise seeds, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg.
  • Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened then mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Make certain to scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate the ingredients thoroughly. The dough will be very thick and stiff (see notes).  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 6 hours or overnight.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Scoop large rounded tablespoons of dough then roll them into balls. Place them on a greased cookie sheet 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until puffed and cracked. Allow cookies to cool completely for 1 to 2 hours.

Sugar Coating

  • While the cookies are baking, make the sugar coating. In a medium saucepan combine the granulated sugar, water, and crushed anise seeds. Bring to a boil while stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely.
  • Place the powdered sugar in a separate dish such as a pie plate. Dip the cooled cookies into the syrup and scoop them out with a fork, allowing the excess syrup to drip off then roll them in the powdered sugar.
    Set them aside on a sheet of wax paper for 10 to 15 minutes while the powdered sugar soaks in, then dip them one more time into the powdered sugar to give them a final white coating.

Notes

  • The dough will be very thick and stiff (see notes). Some electric mixers might not be strong enough to mix the dough, if yours is working too hard dump the dough onto a counter and kneed by hand.
  • These are the perfect cookies to make ahead of time as they store well in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 126kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 1.3g | Fat: 1.5g | Sodium: 91mg | Sugar: 18g
Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)
Pfeffernusse (German spice cookies)

Dahn Boquist

Dahn is a retired nurse, recipe creator, home cook, baker, and self-proclaimed foodie. She loves creating in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends. She lives in Washington State with her husband and dog. When she isn't cooking or baking, you can usually find her spending time with her grandchildren or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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Recipe Rating




Sarah

Sunday 27th of November 2022

Made these and loved them. I had three variations:

Added 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Used white pepper instead of black, as is traditional with these cookies

The anise flavoring was STRONG in this, so instead of an anise glaze, I made a cinnamon glaze.

Turned out great. Author's instructions were clear and easy to follow. I refrigerated for six hours. Cooking temp and time seem spot on, considering my oven runs hot.

Next time I may try adding some ginger (also common for this cookie) and I'm tempted to forget the glaze and just use powdered sugar, since they turn out prettier that way and are sweet enough as it is. That being said, these were gobbled up by my family, so I'd say they were a hit.

This was my first experience baking with anise seed---- if you taste the dough, it's got a huge kick to it! Don't fret, it mellows out after cooking and turns into a delicious spice cookie.

Only negative review was my husband, who described it as an edible popuri. So keep in mind this can be a polarizing recipe. Everyone else couldn't get enough.

Dahn Boquist

Sunday 27th of November 2022

Thanks for the comment and recipe variations. I love the cinnamon glaze.

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