Baker Bettie

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! 

Bowl of peppernuts in a candy dish with christmas ornaments laying around and christmas lights in the background

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.

If you’re looking for some unique holiday cookie recipes, this one is a must add to your lineup! 

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!

Close up of peppernuts in a candy bowl

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!

Step 1: Cream Butter and Sugar Together

Creaming butter and sugar together for the peppernut dough

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.

Adding eggs and anise extract to the peppernut dough

Then you can mix in the eggs and extracts. Anise extract is the most traditional. But if you absolutely do not like anise, you can leave it out and replace it with vanilla extract. 

Step 2: Add Spices and Flour

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.

Step 3: Chill the Dough

Wrapping peppernut dough in plastic wrap to chill before rolling

The dough is chilled for about 30 minutes to firm up before rolling it out. This will make it much easier to handle. I like to pat the dough out somewhat thin and then wrap it in plastic wrap so that it firms up quicker.

Step 4: Roll out the Dough

Once the dough is chilled, divide it into smaller pieces and then roll it out into little ropes. Then use a knife or a bench scraper 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!

Step 5: Bake! 

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!

Peppernut cookies in a candy bowl surrounded by holiday ornaments

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!

Peppernut Cookies in a bowl

Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)

Yield: About 12 Cups of Tiny Cookies
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours

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 (1 cup, 224 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (336 gr) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 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 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom or clove (clove is more traditional, but I prefer the flavor of cardamom)
  • 3 1/2 cups (420 gr) all purpose flour (measured properly-lightly spooned into measuring cups without packing in and leveled off)

Instructions

  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. Press the dough out to about 1" thick and wrap in plastic wrap. 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 16 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 (or I like to use a bench scraper) to cut out tiny nut size pieces of dough. Place on a baking sheet. You can completely fill your sheet in a single layer, 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 10-14 minutes, until a dark golden brown. Check the cookies at 10 minutes and bake longer if needed. 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.

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.

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137 comments on “Peppernuts (Pfeffernusse Cookies)”

  1. I had the pleasure of having these at a friend’s house many years ago. I instantly fell in love with them but when I went in search of a recipe, no one had any idea what I was talking about. Now thanks to the internet, I’ve finally found a recipe for that long remembered treat. I also now know why I stumbled across them when I did. My family was living in McPherson, KS at the time, right in the heart of Mennonite country! I made my first batch last night and they were amazing! Almost like I remembered, as you said, every family had their own recipe. I can’t wait to make more and to tweak the spices a bit, to perfect it to my tastes. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe and helping me recreate a favorite memory.

  2. I grew up with these made with peppermint extract! They were soft and oh so minty. Once a dough, everything is rolled and cut the same. Makes roughly an ice cream pail full. And you can’t stop with eating just 13 . My Mom is from a Mennonite community in northern Minnesota.

    • Peppernuts are a Christmas necessity! My family is also based in Hutchinson, KS. When I moved back, I started helping my grandma with them every year. She is gone now, but a couple of aunts and I still make them. It’s so interesting to see all the different recipes that have been passed down and altered in different ways. They are a special treat for family and friends, and it’s such a blessing to share the tradition!

  3. BARBARA’s RECIPE!
    My mom made these, but failed to write down her recipe. My cousin and I have been searching for the “right” recipe for over 20 years! These came CLOSE. Here are the spice upgrades we made:
    (We left out the anise, since it wasn’t in Mom’s)
    2teaspoons baking soda
    2TABLESPOONS (I use 2.5!) ground ginger
    1teaspoon white or black pepper, fine grind 
    2teaspoons cinnamon
    1teaspoon ground clove
    1/2teaspoons nutmeg
    1/2teaspoons allspice
    We also added 1/2 cup additional flour and 1/4 cup buckwheat flour. (My flour is gluten free.)
    Hope this helps anyone who is looking for extra spice!
    Extra tip:  since the dough is stiffer, we rolled it out between two sheets of parchment paper and cut it into 1/2” wide strips with a long, thin cake spatula. Then we spaced the strips a bit apart and cross cut into 1/2” squares.  We put half the dough back into the fridge while we worked on the first half. ENJOY

  4. This Mennonite Family DOES NOT like anise in our peppernuts. We do use ginger, cloves, nutmet, cinnamon, black pepper, etc. All those spices are not all used in a single recipe. We bake a couple of them. One is over 100 years old, does not use butter but heavy cream. There are 1000+ Peppernut recipes. Most are handed down through families and you will find a lot of regional influences.

  5. Thank you for the recipe.  As many have said these prompt a trip down memory lane.  My Southwestern Iowa Grandmother baked these and I can still see my Grandfather putting one or two on his spoon and dipping it into his coffee (60+ years ago).  I also got a 2 pound coffee can full at Christmas (my other Grandmother always gave me a  2 pound Grandma’s Fruit Cake from the Beatrice Bakery Company).  My Mom took over until she passed – it was a labor of love since she disliked anise.  Daughter-in-law baked these following my Mom’s recipe but hasn’t the last couple of years.  I’ve tried following Mom’s recipe but I think something might be missing so I’m going to give your’s a try.  Her’s had black pepper and a pinch of red pepper – she didn’t have cinnamon but had allspice and nutmeg.

  6. If using anise oil instead of anise extract, what is the measurement needed for the anise oil.

  7. I made these last year for the first time using your recipe. (I used vanilla extract instead of anise because I wasn’t sure if I would like the flavor). I am from Wichita, Kansas an my grandmother used to make these around Christmas and my mother had such fond memories of these cookies. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest now and my grandmother passed many years ago, we don’t have a family recipe 🙁 and can’t really find these around here (or at least not good ones). So last year for Christmas I wanted to surprise her by making these! She loved them and was so happy. And they were DELICIOUS. I made another batch this year and added anise instead of vanilla extract, because my mom said that’s the way she used to have it. I was worried I wouldn’t like them very much with the anise but they are still really delicious! I can’t really taste enough of it to turn me off to the cookies and it does add a nice flavor. So they’re definitely good with or without anise extract! Excited to see what they taste like in a few weeks! Thank you so much 🙂

  8. Love that I came across this recipe. I saw Kansas and super excited! I live in Wichita! Love these cookies. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I came here for a good peppernuts recipe because I lost mine and didn’t realize you grew up in Hutch. I grew up in McPherson, and went to Hutch Juco. Peppernuts is a Holiday staple that I love to make especially for people who have never heard of them before. I live in East Tennessee now and I haven’t met anyone that is familiar with them. I make these every year and give them away, everyone says they sit down and eat them by the handfuls. Thank you!

  10. I’ve made this recipe twice now and each time my cookies spread out while baking. They lose their shape and just look like mini circular cookies (unless I put them too close together on the baking sheet in which case it just becomes one giant cookie.) I’ve followed the recipe exactly. Do you have any thoughts on why my cookies are losing their shape?

  11. My husband and his family were given peppernuts when they moved to Goessel, KS when he was ten years old, and I guess he distinctly remembers loving them and coming around to living in Kansas as a result. He was randomly reminded of these this year and requested them, so I found your recipe and had a go!

    Mine did turn out a lot darker, and spread out more while baking as well. We live in Hilo, Hawaii which is very humid, and are right at sea level pretty much. Any thoughts as to what could have happened?

    Thanks for the recipe, and for the help!

    • You’re welcome! Were you able to chill the dough before baking? If you have trouble with spreading, I suggest chilling the dough for even longer, you could even freeze the dough after it’s cut out until solid and then baking.

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  13. We made these when I was a kid in Southwest Kansas, thanks for sharing the recipe.

  14. Each family within our family of eight children has their own version of the recipe. It is so much fun to compare. We all favor a heavy anise flavor. I love the spices and always add extra. Norma Jost Voth has a little book just for Pepprenuts and also wrote a book ‘Mennonite Food and Folkways from South Russia’ which includes peppernut recipes. This year I sent Peppernuts to a friend in Center, CO who invited friends over for peppernut parties.

  15. If we don’t have the anise extract, can we use anise powder? If so how much?

    • I haven’t tried using anise powder but typically you would use more powder than extract so maybe start off by using 3-4 tsp of anise powder. I think that should be plenty.

  16. They taste awesome. I am not a spice in my cake/cookie person, but I change my opinion on that one. It’s awesome. I added the spices tad less esp the anise and clove cos I cudnt powder them fine enuf. Though my cookies spread a bit. Vud u know why? Thanks a gain for this awesome keeper recipe.

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  20. I make every these October using my husband’s German great-great grandmother’s recipe and it yields around 800 cookies. It uses crisco instead of butter (originally probably used lard) and adds the juice and zest of a lemon. We snack on them throughout the year finishing up around May. My mother in law taught me how to make them when my now husband and I were dating. I was so honored.  My Cajun dad reciprocated by teaching my husband how to make gumbo. Love the passing down of family recipes!

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