Dec 14, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Peppernuts

I love the holidays, don't you?  I love the flavors of the holidays.  And the songs.  And the lights.  And the jingling of sleigh bells. And...the cookies.

Last year, I shared several of my favorite cookie and candy recipes on the Wednesdays leading up to Christmas. This year I started December off with cinnamon-scented "gingerbread" dough for ornaments.  Smells yummy, but it's probably not too tasty.  This week, I'll share a lesser-known, but very edible sweet holiday treat recipe: peppernuts or pfefferneuse.  I always associated these with my German ancestry, but from the looks of things, they have blonde roots - Scandinavian to be precise.

Regardless, peppernuts are a traditional holiday favorite with some of my family members, although they are a rarity in the south.  They are a small, hard cookie (think tiny biscotti) that pack a punch of flavor in the form of spices, including white pepper.  They need to be made a few weeks in advance so they will "cure" and the flavors can mellow.  A few of these little nuggets are delicious with a cup of fresh dark coffee.
Pfefferneuse (Peppernuts)

1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
3 drops anise oil
1 tablespoon hot water
3 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Directions: Mix together shortening, brown sugar, egg, molasses, anise oil and hot water. Add the remaining ingredients in the order given.  Knead until dough is of molding consistency. Shape into small (1/2-inch) ball and place on ungreased cookie sheet (parchment paper is helpful).  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until brown on bottom.  Place in a tin and store for ten days to two weeks to cure before serving.  You can place a slice of apple in the container (it's best to put it in a cup or other open container) for softer cookies.  They may be rolled in powdered sugar before serving.  Makes about 8 dozen cookies. 

I didn't have any ground cloves when I made mine this year, so I substituted cardamom, which is sometimes called for in other peppernut recipes.   You will also find recipes that use mace, ground or finely diced candied ginger, and some that introduce finely chopped nuts or dried fruit.  Some will leave out the pepper, or use black pepper instead.  Others will claim there shouldn't be any butter or shortening in the recipe; others will have both.  As is the case with most traditional foods, there is no "one" way to make these treats, although hethose whose grandmothers made them will defend their recipe as the sentimental favorite in their family.

The modern practice of baking Christmas cookies has its roots in Germany, most notably when inexpensive metal cookie cutters in holiday shapes were exported from Germany in the early 20th century and American cooks latched onto the idea of baking holiday treats, and Christmas cookie recipes began to appear in cookbooks.  To celebrate this aspect of my heritage, I'm planning to start testing some recipes for German cookies, such as Butter Cookies (Butterplatzchen) and Lebkuchen (a gingerbread-type cookie) in the coming months, and possibly introduce one or both on my Christmas goodie plates for next year.

Happy Christmas,