Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)

Peppernuts (or Pfeffernusse Cookies) are a traditional German cookie often made in Mennonite communities in the US. They are a highly addictive, tiny, crunchy cookie filled with warming spices and are perfect for gift giving during the holidays! 

Peppernuts cookies in a candy bowl with Christmas decorations

Growing up in Kansas, there was one particular cookie that was a staple at every holiday event: Peppernuts. The area where I grew up (Hutchinson, KS) has a fairly large population of German Mennonite and because this is a traditional German recipe, these addictive little cookies are very popular during the holidays.

What are Peppernuts?

Peppernuts, also known as pfeffernusse cookies and very similar with Danish pebernodder cookies, are a tiny cookie about the size of a nut (this is where the name comes from) that are filled with all kinds of spices. The cookies are crunchy and flavorful and eaten by the handful. It is really hard to stop eating them, once you start. You are warned!

My family in particular did not make these amazing cookies, rather we would often receive them as gifts from various other people. The cookies from each person we received them from would have a slightly different flavor, and I personally loved them all. It seems each family’s recipe has a different variation on the spice combination, and in talking to friends from my hometown who do have family recipes, they are quite opinionated and passionate about what should go into them!

Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)

Spices in Peppernuts

The one main ingredient that seems to have a general consensus from the group is that anise (most recipes use anise oil) is an absolute must in a true peppernut. Beyond that, most recipes use ground cinnamon and ground ginger, and then others add various combinations of cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and some use ground nuts or nut flour.

One ingredient that I was surprised wasn’t a unanimous “absolutely yes” from the group, is the use of white pepper in the cookies. I have always added it to mine and had believed this is where the cookies got the “pepper” part of their name and really what makes them so unique and special. But I learned that this ingredient is also controversial. About half use pepper and half do not. I am very much on Team Pepper in these special little cookies!

How to Make Peppernuts

One of the other special things about these cookies is that they keep for a REALLY long time and the flavor actually keeps developing, getting better and better. In researching these cookies, I learned that traditionally these cookies were made about a month before Christmas and kept in metal tins to “age” before the holidays. I am FOR it!

The makeup for these cookies is very simple. The dough is a pretty standard cookie dough where the butter and sugar are creamed together and eggs and flour and leavening are added. I prefer to use dark brown sugar in these cookies because I love the color and flavor the extra molasses in it brings, but light brown would work as well. And then you just add your lineup of spices and extracts. I think this is one of those recipes that you can definitely play with the flavor combinations to find your favorite mix. I love to add cardamom to mine! This definitely isn’t traditional but the spice contributes such an interesting herbal citrus note that I enjoy.

The dough is chilled for about 30 minutes and then rolled out into little ropes and cut into tiny pieces. This might seem tedious, but the whole process actually goes pretty quickly and this is such a fun thing to do with the family. You can even get your kids in to help roll out the ropes. No need to worry about each cookie being exactly the same size. The inconsistencies is part of the fun of these cookies!

One of the other amazing things about peppernut cookies is that this makes about 12 cups of tiny little nuts. They are perfect for splitting up into little bags and tying with some ribbon to give out as gifts!

Peppernuts cookies (pfeffernuse cookies)

I truly hope you give this unique little cookie a try! I have no doubts they will become a fast favorite made year after year!

Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)

Peppernuts (or Pfeffernusse Cookies) are a traditional German cookie often made in Mennonite communities in the US. They are a highly addictive, tiny, crunchy cookie filled with warming spices and are perfect for gift giving during the holidays!

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks (8 oz, 224 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 336 gr) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp anise extract (this is traditional in this recipe, but can be left out if you do not like anise. I have made them without several times and they are still delicious)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt or Morton kosher salt (use 1/2 tsp if using Diamond kosher)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp clove or cardamom (clove is more traditional, but I prefer the flavor of cardamom)
  • 3 1/2 cups (14.9 oz, 416 gr) all purpose flour

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. About 3 minutes.
  2. Add the eggs, anise extract, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, and clove or cardamom into the bowl and mix until everything is incorporated.
  3. Add the flour into the dough and mix just until it is incorporated. You do not want to mix for a long time, just until the flour is incorporated in.
  4. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350F (177C). Divide your dough into 8 pieces. Press 1 piece of dough into a ball and roll it out between your hands and a clean work surface to form a thin rope, about 1/4″ thick. Use a sharp knife to cut out tiny nut size pieces of dough. Place on a baking sheet. You can fit quite a few on one baking sheet but you will need to bake these in several batches to get them all baked. It typically works out to be cutting out the next sheet pan of cookies while the one before it bakes.
  6. Bake at 350F (177C) for 15-17 minutes, until a dark golden brown. The cookies will be slightly soft when they first come out of the oven but will become very crispy as the cool. Store the completely cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Recipe Notes:

  • This dough can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake.
  • These cookies keep a very long time, up to 1 month, and the flavor keeps developing. Make them far in advance of your holiday party or for gift giving!
  • If the dough is too sticky to roll out, let it chill for longer and add a little bit of flour to your work surface while rolling them out.

Substitution Notes:

  • If I know for sure I am not serving these to anyone with a nut allergy, I love the addition of almond flour in this recipe. Cut back the flour to 2 3/4 cups (11.7 oz, 327 gr) and add 1 cup (3.4 oz, 96 gr) of almond flour.
  • The spices and extracts in this recipe can be changed to match your preferences. They only affect the flavor, and do not change the texture of the cookie.
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40 comments on “Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)”

  1. Never heard of these but they look and sound great!
  2. These look so good, I've never seen them before. I think I'm gonna make them soon! Thanks for the unique recipe.
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  4. I am gonna to try these. One guy was telling me that he had craving for pepper nuts, he also said that they are so addicting you can't just have one. Went to a bulk food store and asked the clerk if she ever heard of pepper nuts. She said, No. Today I searched google look so good and easy I have to try. My plan for Christmas this year. But 600, holy.
  5. How did the consistency of the peppernut come out? My moms friend has made these for our family for years and he's comes out looking just like yours and when you bite into it it's fluffy. Thanks
  6. These are amazing would recommend 10/10
  7. From Kansas and love these cookies! My mothers w'ould bake them when I was a child growing up in the Wichita area. Now she is passed and I miss the cookies so I need to find a EASY one . I am 56 and do not cook much so the easier the better. This one looks to fit the bill and sounds the way she cooked them. Memories for sure. Thanks!
  8. Not the pepper nuts I am use too. These are dry and flaky like a sugar cookie. Did my family recipy and this one. This one did not make the snack table... this one needs more liquids to make a sticky dough. Try honey, karo, or milk.
    • Hi Matt, I wonder if you ended up with too much flour in your dough. Make sure not to pack it down at all when measuring it! This particular recipe does not need honey or cornsyrup or any extra moisture!
  9. I am from Nebraska and my great aunt used to make these every year for Christmas. Hers were super crunchy, that's how I remember them. Going to try her recipe with a few of your ingredients added. Surprising my family, I'm sure my mom will be thrilled
  10. -First, I need to apologize for the length of this post. -Our family has been making a version of these for generations. I remember when I was very young we would receive a box of these from my maternal grandmother every Christmas. She passed when I was about 8 and all her children were bequeathed the recipe. Each would send Peppernuts to their extended families until they passed, then the recipe would be passed on and so on. Well my mother didn't continue the tradition but one Christmas when I was a teen she decided to make them to send to my sister as well as have some at home. She made the dough and the next day Dad and I baked them. It took us a good part of the day for I swear we made at least a few thousand. We continued the tradition until Dad passed and I wasn't able to go see Mom for Christmas. By that time my Sister had decided she couldn't be bothered with making them and Mom was getting too old to manage it on her own. -Unfortunately , when Mom passed she neglected to put the recipe in her will and she was the last of her siblings. Well, Sis has had the original for years from our Grandmother but doesn't seem to want to send it to me (or has lost it). Sis is now 80 and I am in my mid-60's. I would love to restart the tradition for some of my second cousins. The difference is tat I will send the recipe when I send the cookies and not wait until I pass. I don't want the tradition to die again. -Since I don't have the original recipe I have been searching for a reasonable facsimile and I believe this is it. -Thank You Baker Bettie for your part in the restart of a family tradition. Jennifer
  11. And then there are those of us who can't STAND the taste of anise or black licorice. But I appreciate the enthusiasm!
    • Hi DeVere, That is the beauty of a recipe in that it is only a guideline! You can always change the extracts and spices to meet your own preferences. I have made these a few times when I didn’t have anise extract on hand and they are just as tasty, just different! Make them your own!
  12. ok I can def see how these would be so addictive!!!
  13. Phefferneusse are one of my favourite childhood Christmas memories. My Oma and Opa (who were Mennonites in Canada)  would make pails of them (storing them as you described in metal tins). Whenever we would go over we would usually leave with a small bag of them.  Their tins would usually last until Easter. A few years before my Opa died I decided to try making them and was able to pick his brain and get his tricks for making them.  His (my) recipe uses shortening and honey + baking soda, sugar and spices. . The full sized recipe has about 16 cups of flour, 1 lb of shortening and 2 lbs of honey. It takes me about 8 hours to roll all the logs and bake them. A long time, but it’s 8 wonderful hours of thinking of them and recalling wonderful memories.
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  15. Ok, so giving these a try with the kids and I'm not sure I got the dough quite right. It was pretty sticky to handle and then 15 minutes in the oven seemed a little too long (my wife says overly caramelized, I say burned). Am I just not chilling long enough? Is there something else I may have missed? I checked and rechecked the amounts and I'm sure I measured everything out right. Still tastes pretty good, though!
    • Hi Cameron! It is possible that you may just need a little more flour if they are still sticky after chilling. It can vary from day to day and based on where you live. You can lightly flour the countertop if needed when rolling them out, but it is a little bit of a sticky dough. Possibly your oven cooks a little hotter than mine and you may need to adjust the baking time a little bit less!
  16. I grew up with these as well. I came to the net searching for some nutritional information and this is the first site I stumbled on! Many recipes I found are for some bigger cookies...not like the small crunchy treats I grew up with. My mom's family has German ancestry and is also from Kansas (which is what compelled me to comment); they would make peppernuts by the bucket-full! Can't wait to make these during the Holidays. I love that I can make my dough and it can stay in the fridge for a long time--I guess we keep more than 3 days :o Our recipe calls for dark karo syrup and shortening and milk vs brown sugar and butter...I guess the more economic way to make them! Boiled these first ingredients with sugar and after cooling begin adding the rest. I shall give your recipe a try!
  17. I was looking for a recipe close to home (Hutchinson, KS) and was surprised to find a fellow baker from my hometown! I am excited to make these for my children and parents as these are hard to find here in Arizona. Thank you for sharing and bringing a bit of home to our holidays!
  18. I made these this morning and they have no taste al all.  I know I didn’t leave anything out and my spices are new.  I was going to just use the dough with some additions and make cut cookies, but they were so dry, didn’t want to waste any more ingredients.  I did however try a short cut in cutting them into “nuts” I used my cookie press with the three hole disk. Dragging along as clicking about twice to make “worms” and then cutting into small pieces. Thanks tho for giving me something new to try, not everything works out. I live in Lawrence but was born in Hutch!
    • Hi LeAnne, So sorry these didn't work out for you. I am very confused that you would find them bland, as they are quite a spiced cookie. The flavor does develop some after some time, but even straight out of the oven they have quite a lot of flavor. I'm wondering, since you mention the dough being very dry, if you possibly over measured your flour? You want to lightly spoon the flour into your measuring cups, without packing it down, and level it off. It is common to accidentally pack too much flour into your measuring cup. Brilliant idea to use your cookie press to make the ropes!
  19. Bettie, I too am from Hutch and live in the Pacific Northwest now. I bought some store-made peppernuts and was horrified by the giant, frosted incorrectly spiced monstrosities that I found when I opened the box. I really appreciate your posting of the “real” recipe!
  20. We are keto, could I use all almond flour for this recipe?  I’d you Sukin Gold for the brown sugar.  Would the flour ratio be the same? Kansas here also KC area.
    • Hi Heather, I have never made this with only almond flour and no wheat flour. It should be about equal amount, but I would add most of it in and then check the texture of the dough and add more as needed. It should be a slightly sticky dough, but still pretty thick. Let me know how it goes!
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