Feeling tongue tied today? You just might, after trying to pronounce today’s food holiday. December 23 is National Pfeffernuesse Day!
Pfeffernuesse is a small, round cookie with ground nuts and spices that is popular during the holidays in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands. The dough is rolled into balls and is initially hard, leading many to dunk the cookies in coffee or milk, similar to a biscotti. Over time, they soften. The name translates to “pepper nuts” in English, though these cookies do not always contain nuts. A National Pfeffernuesse Day is observed by many European countries on the same date.
In Dutch folklore, Pfeffernuesse is closely associated with the Feast of Sinterklaas (December 5 in The Netherlands, December 6 in Germany and Belgium). Children receive gifts (or lumps of coal, depending on whether they’ve been precious little saints all year, or assholes) from St. Nicholas on this day. The cookie has been a part of these European yuletide celebrations since the 1850s.
Pfeffernuesse are one of those cookies you’d recognize if you saw it. Sure enough, they’ve been a part of many a holiday cookie tray over the years. I couldn’t find them in the grocery store, so I looked up several recipes online – the basic ingredients are the same, but the exact spices vary – and ended up combining elements from a couple of different recipes to create my own. Here it is:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1 egg
- powdered sugar, for rolling baked cookies in
- In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, salt, baking soda, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves, set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter, sugar, and molasses until fluffy. Beat in egg. On low speed gradually add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Cover and chill dough for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease baking sheets. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch sized balls. Place balls two inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.
- When cookies are cool enough to handle, but still warm roll in powdered sugar. Transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.
The verdict? These were different from any other type of cookie I’ve ever had. They’re warm and spicy, with just the subtlest hint of pepper. The color and consistency – and flavor, even – reminds me somewhat of gingerbread. They were pretty good!
And I might also point out, these represent the final baking challenge of the year. There is nothing else left to bake, and actually, only 1 more thing left to cook. Wow!