Pfeffernusse translates as "pepper nuts," which is pretty much on the money. Ground pepper is one of the ingredients, and the finished products sort of, now that I think about some of the items on my recent cookie sheet, resemble acorns. Kind of. Anyway, they're hard. Like nuts. And rocks, actually. But nuts are a bit more biter-friendly. And they probably taste better, too.
First, the ingredients:
1/2 lb sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
finely grated zest of half a lemon
4 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 lb flour
You might wonder about some of the measurements. Actually, the original recipe was a combination of pounds and grams. My late mother-in-law, Elsa, converted grams into teaspoons.
Shall we proceed?
Stir sugar and eggs 1/2 hour. Really, that's what it says. I'm saying – it's an old recipe. No hand-held mixers, no KitchenAid stand mixers, no food processing. Just bowls and wooden spoons. That's how you did it. But it's okay to skip that bit of authenticity in favor of time saving measures. So instead, beat the eggs and sugar together until light in whatever way you want to.
In a separate bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the brandy. That's for later.
And then add the dry goods to the egg/sugar mixture…
…until combined. But don't overdo it. You're making a cookie, not a loaf of bread. No need to get the gluten all excited.
Now you want to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.
Hey…what are those little things in the back there?
Oh…you mean these?
These are one-of-a-kind pfeffernusse tools. Elsa's father made them. In front is a little wooden matchstick sliced into a blunt point at one end and marked (on the left) at the quarter inch mark. That's how thick you want to roll the dough. It's hard to read, but the word "pfeffernus" is written on the stick as well. Behind that is a part of a little tin container that held Herb-Ox bouillon in some form or other. He cut the tin down to size and as you can see, "pfeffernus" is written on that as well.
There are more of these match sticks for the other cookies we will be baking this holiday season. But I think my favorite item is this tiny cutter.
For those of you who don't have an old Herb-Ox tin container to trim down… the diameter is about 3/4 of an inch. If you don't have a round cutter that small, GET ONE! No, you can use something a little bigger – but use the smallest size you possibly can (you don't want english muffin-sized pfeffernusse…someone could break a jaw). If you end up making them larger than the 3/4 inch size, you'll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Okay, so we've got our special tools, and we've got our dough. Now you need to roll it out until it's about a quarter inch thick…
Now you take your pfeffernusse cutter and start cutting out little circles of dough, like so:
Place the tiny cookies on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
You should dip the cutter in flour every couple of circles, so the dough doesn't stick too much. Sometimes no matter what, you just need a bit of help getting it dough to come out…
You can re-roll the dough a few times, in order to get as many little circles of dough out of that batch as possible.
Yes, it can be exhausting work…
…but keep going, you're almost done for now.
Set the pan aside in a cool place for 12-24 hours.
I let mine sit over night.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300 F.
And here's where the brandy comes in. You don't need much. Pour a little bit into a bowl and lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the brandy. I believe that what it does is moisten the dried top surface of the cookie, allowing the cookie to soften a bit and pop up and take on that round nut shape. But then, I could be doing it completely wrong and maybe they're really supposed to resemble pecans. Probably not.
Now, just pop the pan in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes. Besides baking them, you're also drying them out, so you want the tops to feel firm, rather than mushy, when you check them at this point. If they need to go longer, let them. If you're not sure, another five minutes won't harm them.
When they're done, they will look more or less like these:
I say more or less because, well, mine still don't look consistent. Some are nicely domed, others look like that little guy in the middle there…what happened to him? Nothing good….
These, on the other hand, look a bit better to me –
– nicely proportioned, I think.
But no matter how they look, they will all taste good. They should be dry and crunchy and spicy little bites. If you're a fan of gingersnaps, you'll probably like these, too.
The recipe makes about 9 dozen. I only bake one batch and I have more than enough to give away and to keep.