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!

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 (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 1/4 cups (390 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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116 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.

  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.

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