Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies

Pfeffernüsse cookies are a traditional German holiday cookie that translates to “pepper nut." They don't contain nuts, though they do contain white pepper!

They also contain a blend of warm wintry spices, which are sometimes sold in Germany under the name lebkuchengewürz. Think of it like a German version of pumpkin spice blend. Since lebkuchengewürz is difficult to source outside of Germany, and the actual contents of the spice blend varies, I’ve listed the individual spices below.

If you don’t have all the spices or have an aversion to some of the spices, feel free to play around and substitute for what you have in the pantry.

However, the one spice that is fairly consistent with most pfeffernüsse recipes is the white pepper, so it might be worth tracking down some for this cookie if you want the authentic experience. (White pepper is also good with fish and potato-based dishes.) Otherwise, an easy substitution of black pepper will work just fine.

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Bake time: 10 minutes per batch
  • Yield: about 40 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (70 g) dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/4 cup (70 g) honey
  • 6 tablespoons (75 g) white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon whole milk, cold from the refrigerator
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg, cold from the refrigerator
  • 2 1/2 cup (350 g) all-purpose flour

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup (115 g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water

Special equipment:

Method

1 Preheat your oven to 375ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon baking mat.

2 Make the cookie dough: Warm the molasses, honey, and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the spices and salt. Stir in the milk, baking soda, and egg. Add the flour and stir until most of the flour is absorbed. Using your hands, knead the dough until the remaining flour is incorporated.

Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies

3 Shape the cookies: Pinch off about a teaspoon of dough and roll a 1-inch ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls of dough 1-inch apart from each other.

Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies

4 Bake in the oven for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookies are just starting to brown.

5 Stir together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water to make the glaze.

6 Glaze the cookies: Once the cookies are done baking, pull the pan out of the oven and brush the hot cookies with the glaze, making sure to cover as much of the tops and sides as possible. Don’t worry if some of the glaze drips onto the baking sheet.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet until the glaze is dry to the touch, then move to a cooling rack. The cookies improve (the spices mellow and the texture softens) after a day or two in a sealed airtight container.

Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies

Click on the comments you'd like to print with your recipe. Grayed out comments will not print.

Comments

  • BEC

    As i sit here eating these fresh out of the oven cookies ,im thinking i probably should never have found this recipe …these cookies are delish and i will be making often .thanks for recipe .BEC

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • JA

    I LOVE these cookies! I made them a few times exactly as per the recipe and they are scrumptious. I also make a high fiber version by using combinations of buckwheat flour, almond flour, whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, etc. I also like to add ground anise seed and sometimes play around with the spice amounts, mainly increasing the pepper for a little more bite. I do not, however, double it as a reviewer recommended for this or a different pfeffernusse recipe (I did that once and it was way too peppery).

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Corbett

    Made these for a cookie swap, and they were excellent & fun to make!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Natalie

    Super excited to try these. Was searching for cookies to make for a cookie exchange, so the fact that is how you came about this recipe makes them perfect; along with the fact that I have German heritage. I always check Simplyrecipes first and you never disappoint (regular & beet hummus were hits this Thanksgiving!!!).

  • Shari

    Made these (gluten free) and my mom said they were the best spice cookies she’s had (she’s almost 90 – she’s had a lot of spiced cookies). Even day 1 they were soft and spicy – if they do “season” over a day or two great but even if they don’t… great. I used regular black pepper and you couldn’t see it – I don’t know if white pepper would make a difference – I’ve never had white pepper. Will definitely make again – likely before the month is out as Christmas is approaching… Thanks

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Maya

    These turned out perfectly! They were easy and delicious with or without the icing. I made them for my German friends and they said they were the best pfeffernüsse they had ever tried and the mother ate three even though she was on a diet. Everyone loved them and they were all eaten that day. I will definitely make them again. Thank you very much for this wonderful recipe, I just loved making these and loved eating them even more.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Jessica

    Great recipe! I substituted with 1 1/2 cups Pamela’s gluten free baking mix and 1 cup of chickpea flour and they are delicious. My mother is Celiac and delighted with them. Thank you.

  • Patricia Shaffer

    I am eager to make this recipe but cannot find molasses that is not blackstrap in the fine print, if not on the main label. I have now purchased two bottles if the wrong stuff. Can anyone tell me what will happen if I use blackstrap molasses in the recipe – and if I should adjust any of the other ingredients? Why is molasses that is not blackstrap unavailable in supermarket chains if it is preferable?

    • Irvin Lin

      Hi there. Blackstrap molasses is much more intense in flavor, which is why I suggested that you don’t use. It has a dark bitter flavor to it. But I’ve used it in this recipe before and it came out fine, albeit not quite as sweet, with a tinge of bitterness. Most folks prefer their cookies with regular molasses, but if you want to make it with the blackstrap, feel free. You might like the flavor!

      If you find that the flavor is too intense, you can try swapping the blackstrap molasses for dark corn syrup. It has a similar flavor, though not as complex, as molasses. Either way, come back and let me know how it turns out for you!

  • Alexandra

    How long do you think these will last in a sealed airtight container? Since there is no butter, I’m guessing that have a longer shelf life. Thanks!

    • Irvin Lin

      Hi Alexandra. Yes, since it has no butter in it, the shelf life is pretty long. I would say at least a week in an airtight container but I’ve had them around for 2 weeks or more and they have tasted fine – in fact the spices have deepened in flavor a bit!

      I can’t tell you any longer 2 weeks though because they are always gone by then!

      • Anna

        With my German family’s recipe, these would have been made at least a month before you ate them. They need the time for the spices to really meld. I haven’t tried your recipe but will give it a go.

  • Debbie McCarrick

    So the Pfeffernusse my Grandma made had butter. Checked several other recipes online and they too all have butter. Did the butter in this recipe inadvertently get omitted? Other than the butter they sound very similar to all the others I have read.

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Debbie! The recipe is correct. Our version of Pfeffernusse has NO butter. As Irvin says, there are numerous versions of “authentic” pfeffernusse! The only fat in ours is from the egg yolk and milk. Because of this, the cookies will keep for quite a long time. 2 to 3 weeks at room temperature, or even longer. Enjoy!

  • MISS JOANNE THORNE

    Hi….can you tell me if dark molasses is a sugar…..not a syrup……I’ve seen sugar in the shops here in the uk…..thanks

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Miss Joanne! Our molasses is a dark syrup with a bittersweet flavor. I’m not 100% sure (and other Brits and ex-pats should chime in here!), but I think it’s most similar to black treacle. Let us know how it goes!

      • Tami

        Treacle is very close to molasses. I have used both.

  • T. Waterston-Moore

    These iced sugar treats sound disarmingly delicious!

  • Elizabeth

    So was also raised with these cookies but when I made them they came out a little too hard. What could I have done wrong. I followed the recipie to a tee.

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Elizabeth! If you just made them today, try giving them another day or two to mellow and soften. This is something that Irvin (the author) recommends!

  • Sandra

    I am from Swiss heritage and remember how wonderful these cookies were when growing up five decades ago. My Mother learned from her Grand(Mother)s!! Oh yes, I am definitely making these to surprise grown children that live near. ThankYoueversomuchly!

  • Foodiewife

    Having been raised with these cookies, that my Mutti always bought, I can say that this recipe looks authentic. I’m going to go with a flatter version just because that’s how my Mutti’s looked. I can’t wait to make these– thank you for a great recipe and tutorial.

  • Joanne

    If you chill the finished dough overnight, the next day you can take a large scoop out of the bowl, roll it into a long 1 inch thick snake and cut into 1 inch sections and bake. Simpler than scooping and rolling each one, plus if you do a massive baking day like me, you can have one batch of cookies ready and baking while you start another flavor! My husband’s favorite Christmas cookie.

    • Foodiewife

      That is a great idea! Thanks.

  • Jason

    Just in time for the holiday season! Will have to pick up a new baking sheetand try it out.