A Kinder, Gentler Pfeffernusse (Gingerbread Snowball Cookies) by Cleo Coyle

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Like any recipe that's been around for several hundred years, there are countless variations of the German cookie pfeffernüsse (aka "pepper nuts"), and I've made several. Some bakers, for example, put finely chopped nuts into their "pepper nuts." Some don't. 

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Some bakers like to add a potent amount of black or white pepper into the cookie, giving them very peppery bite. Some add ground cloves. 

The version I'm sharing with you today is my favorite way to make it: soft on the inside but with a light crispness on the outside shell. No nuts to take away from the contrast of spicy, delicious gingerbread flavor with the sweet dusting of powdered sugar.

Click here for the Free Recipe PDF.
My version also takes a kinder, gentler approach to the spice aspect, using only a pinch of pepper and leaning more heavily on the ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. (Allspice, I find, delivers that ground clove flavor at a much lower price.)

BTW: Allspice is not a spice mix (like pumpkin pie spice). Allspice is actually a pea-sized berry that mimics the flavors of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The berry comes from the evergreen pimiento tree, grown in South America and the West Indies, including Jamaica.

Cleo Coyle's
Pfeffernüsse "Pepper Nuts"


1-1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 generous pinch ground black pepper 
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap) or honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for finishing)

Yields: 3 dozen cookies

Mix the dough: Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices. Set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the softened butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add in egg, molasses (or honey), and vanilla. Now gradually add in the dry flour mixture, blending until the dough comes together. 

Chill: Pat the dough into a mound and chill for 30 minutes. (The dough is sticky, and the chilling will make it easier to work with in the next step.) At this point in the recipe, you can store the dough for up to 3 days in the refrigerator, but be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic to keep it moist.

Bake the cookies: When ready to bake, break off small pieces of dough and roll into small balls (3/4 inches in diameter). Bake about 13 minutes in your preheated 325° Fahrenheit oven. Do not burn bottoms. Insides of cookies will finish baking as cookies cool. 

Snow dusting: Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet. If you handle them while they're hot, they will lose their shape. Once they've cooled off and hardened a bit, roll them in the powdered sugar. These are the perfect treat to leave for Santa on a snowy Christmas Eve. 

Storage tips: Make sure your cookies are completely cool before storing in an airtight container. When cookies are stored warm, condensation can occur, turning your treats soggy. Of course, you can always serve them warm and...may you eat with joy to the world!

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May your holidays be bright! 

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

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