Pfeffernusse cookies are a traditional Christmas cookie in Germany. Made with molasses, anise, pepper and seasonal spices, these chewy cookies are coated in confectioners’ sugar.
This recipe was originally posted in December 2013. It was last updated August 2020.
Froehliche Weihnachten! The 25 Days of Baking continues and today I tried my hand at Pfeffernüsse cookies, a popular Christmas treat in Germany. My Aunt Carol has perfected these cookies and bakes them every year. In an attempt to make mine half as good as hers, I did a little research.
What are pfeffernusse cookies? Pfeffernusse are small German spice cookies, although they are also popular in Denmark and The Netherlands. The most distinctive ingredient being black pepper (Pfeffernüsse translates to peppernuts). They also contain either anise seeds or anise extract to give it that licorice flavor.
The anise extract is the most prominent taste in these cookies as well as the black pepper. Other spices include cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg and cloves. The molasses and brown sugar adds a little sweetness and creates a chewy cookie. One final ingredient is the confectioners’ sugar. While this isn’t traditional pfeffernusse, many enjoy tossing the cookies in sugar for a sweet and decorative finish.
Step by step instructions
- Make the dough: Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar and molasses until well combined. Add the egg and anise extract. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until combined.
- Chill the dough: Cover and place dough in the refrigerator for three hours.
- Bake the cookies: Scoop dough into balls and bake at 350° F for 15 minutes. Cool slightly and coat in confectioners’ sugar while still warm.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to store pfeffernusse cookies: Place in an airtight container or holiday tin. Store at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.
Freezing pfeffernusse cookie dough: Place dough in an airtight container or wrap in plastic wrap. Freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before scooping and baking the cookies.
I don’t like the taste of anise. Can I use something else? Yes, replace anise extract with vanilla extract.
Can I glaze these cookies instead? Yes, whisk 2 tablespoons of milk in with the confectioners’ sugar. Dip the tops of the cookies in the icing and place back on wire rack to set.
German Christmas desserts recipes
If you like Pfeffernüsse cookies, I suggest trying my personal favorite Linzer cookies. They are almond shortbread cookies with jam sandwiched in between. You can also try Lebkuchen, a traditional German cookie resembling gingerbread, or German Christmas Stollen, a fruit bread made with dried fruit, nuts and spices.
Did you enjoy this recipe? Be sure to tag @ifyougiveablondeakitchen on social media so I can see your holiday cookies!
- 2 1/4 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (113 g or 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon anise extract (or vanilla if you prefer)
- 1/2 cup (87 g) confectioners’ sugar
- In a bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, black pepper, ground cloves, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and anise extract until combined. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour mixture and beat until just combined.
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
- Position a rack in the middle of an oven and preheat to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Scoop about a tablespoon of dough and roll into balls 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place balls on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies are golden and firm to the touch with slight cracking, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
- While cookies are still slightly warm, roll them in confectioners’ sugar and serve.
- Storing pfeffernusse: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
- Make ahead tips: Dough may be kept the refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before scooping and baking.