It's about time you were introduced to the pfeffernüsse, the cookie that rolls right off the tongue. As Luisa Weiss, author of Classic German Baking, explains, "Pfeffernüsse are one of many countless types of cookies baked at Christmastime in Germany that are spiced with a medley of 'warm' spices." The warmth in these cookies comes from lebkuchengewürz, a spice blend made of ground cinnamon, star anise, clove, cardamom, ginger and mace. The shortened version—lebkuchen—is the blanket term for these German cookies.
“There are different types of pfeffernüsse from different regions of Germany,” Weiss tells us. “The one in my book is the Offenbacher Pfeffernusse, which is dome shaped and glazed. It's been in existence since at least the 18th century and was beloved by such cultural luminaries as Goethe and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.”
That admiration extends to this day. The cookies have a smooth surface and an airy but chewy texture, created by baker's ammonia, a leavening agent. While you can find it in specialty spice and baking stores, you can also buy it here.
German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)
Recipe adapted from 'Classic German Baking,' by Luisa Weiss
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
Prep Time: 25 minutes, plus 2 days resting time
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes, plus 2 days resting time
For the Lebkuchengewürz:
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1½ tablespoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mace
¾ teaspoon ground star anise
For the Pfeffernüsse:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup honey
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lebkuchengewürz
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
1 tablespoon rum, slightly warmed
¾ cup, plus 1 tablespoon, confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1. Make the lebkuchengewürz: In a small bowl, whisk together the lebkuchengewürz spices until well combined. Makes about ½ cup. Store in an airtight container.
2. Make the pfeffernüsse: Preheat the oven to 375° and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt to combine.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and granulated sugar over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the lebkuchengewürz and white pepper.
4. In a small bowl, dissolve the baker's ammonia in the rum, then stir into the honey mixture. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and add the flour mixture and the egg. Stir until a smooth dough forms.
5. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place ½ inch apart on the prepared sheet pan. Bake until the cookies have domed and dried, 10 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and water.
7. When the cookies come out of the oven, immediately brush them with the glaze. Let the cookies cool completely, then store in an airtight container for 2 days before serving.