12 Days of Christmas Cookies: Peppernuts

This Christmas, we’re sharing 12 Christmas cookie recipes to help you prepare for your cookie parade (also called a cookie swap or cookie party). Or, you know, just for eating yourself.

Peppernuts–or Pfeffernüsse, if you want to be technical about it–are a Danish/Dutch/German, but, most importantly, Mennonite (specifically of the Midwestern variety) cookie. They’re labor intensive (If you are working with a partner, you will finish them in A Muppet Christmas Carol; working alone, you’ll probably be able to watch both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), so they are made by many Mennonites around Christmas. Thankfully, if stored in an airtight container, they last a long time.

There are a zillion recipes for peppernuts out there, but the basics are: some kind of sugar (molasses, white sugar, brown sugar, dark or light Karo syrup), which determine if they are “light” or “dark” peppernuts; a fat or combination of them; a mix of spices (Pepper is not required, despite the name. People have very strong feelings about the inclusion of anise.); possible fruits (dates, raisins, etc.) or ground nuts; and flour. You can see why one of my local church cookbooks includes 9 different recipes for this one cookie.

I’ve chosen a peppery, anise-forward version to share here because I like them spicy. The texture is like biscotti–quite hard and good for serving with tea.

Ingredients and Directions:
Cream together:

  • 2 c. light karo syrup
  • 1 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1/2 c. butter


  • 3 tsp. finely ground black pepper
  • 3 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. cardamom
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 2 tsp. cloves


  • 3 tsp. anise oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp lemon extract

Stir in

  • 2 c. sour cream


  • enough flour to make a stiff dough (probably 5-6 cups)

Roll into snakes about the circumference of a pencil. Slice, then either bake sliced or re-roll gently into balls. At this size, I fit 12 rows and 8 columns on a quarter-sized baking sheet. I made about almost 1600 total from this recipe.

Bake 8-10 minutes.img_3361.jpg

The ideal peppernut should look like it was cut out by a thimble. This one is as big as the fingernail on my pinkie–just perfect!

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