October 5, 2008


(Updated 12.20.21) These are one of our most firmly established Christmas-cookie traditions and come from my husband's family. I'm not exactly sure why they are such a favorite-- they are rock-hard, and are anything but the sweet, rich treat that most of our favorite cookies are. I think it's because they are unique and that makes them special. I went to school with my husband and I remember him being famous around this time of year in school for these cookies; other kids would get excited when he started to bring them each year and would ask for some. I think he brought extras into school to hand them out. Again, I can't imagine that kids really craved these but they were just so interesting

They come from Germany, where they are called pfeffernusse. They are a spiced, round cookie, good for dunking or sucking or finding just the right spot in the back of your mouth to crack them in half and then crunch very, very loudly on. The kitchen does smell amazing when you make them-- which you do by melting butter and corn syrup and then stirring in large quantities of autumnal spices (allspice, cloves, cinnamon) and a lot of flour. 

The thing that is most special to me about pfeffernuts is the way my son has taken ownership of them. Each year he is able to stir them a little longer all by himself (it gets very thick and stiff toward the end of all the flour adding, and one year we broke a wooden spoon doing it). As you can maybe see from the photo below, it is still a multi-person operation because there is someone sturdy needed to hold the large pot still on the stovetop, and others there to cheer the stirrer along and provide moral support. And then you want as many hands as possible to roll them into balls; it gets more difficult to do as the batter cools. Once they are all rolled into balls, they bake in the oven in batches. 

1. A previous version of this post said, from the original copy of the recipe I had received, 45 minutes baking time, and for that I apologize, because that is far too long and has been updated below.
2. Textured cookie sheets, if you have them, work well to make these cookies easy to lift off the pan.   

from Anne Ehret

1 pint blue label Karo syrup 
1 C sugar 
1 C butter 
1 t baking soda 
2 C flour, plus 4 - 6 cups more in stages 
3 t cinnamon 
5 t allspice 
5 t ground cloves 

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil. 

Add 2 C flour and spices. Mix well. 

Turn off heat and add 4 - 6 more cups of flour (or as much flour as you can mix in) while it is still hot. 

Form into balls (keeping in mind that you want the cookies small enough to fit inside your mouth whole and uniform size is helpful for baking). 

Bake at 310 degrees for about 18 minutes or until just starting to look browned. Remove from pan immediately to avoid sticking, and let cool on cooling racks. Store in cookie tin (for months if you so desire/if they last that long). 

1 comment:

  1. Rock hard is not an exaggeration. At Dartmouth I remember these cookies:

    1) requiring a pretty hard hit with a hammer to break into multiple pieces
    2) surviving a drop test from the 4th floor of Woodward onto the sidewalk
    3) supporting the weight of one of those big wooden tables in the Thayer School Great Hall when put under a leg.

    But if you can keep it in your mouth or 30 minutes, yum! Fun memories. Might have to try the PB choc-chunk cookies, though.