What is pfeffernüsse?
Pfeffernüsse are tiny spice cookies, popular as a holiday treat in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands, as well as among ethnic Mennonites in North America.
They are called 'pepernoten' in Dutch (plural), 'päpanät' in Plautdietsch, pfeffernuesse or peppernuts in English, and 'pebernødder' in Danish.
While the exact origin of the cookie is uncertain, the traditional Dutch belief links the 'pepernoten' to the 'feast of Sinterklaas', celebrated on 5 December or 6 December in The Netherlands and 6 December in Germany and Belgium.
This is when children receive gifts from St. Nicholas, who is partially the inspiration for the Santa Claus tradition. In Germany, the pfeffernuss is more closely associated with Christmas. The cookie has been part of European yuletide celebrations since the 1850s.
Throughout the years, the popularity of the pfeffernüsse has caused many bakers to create their own recipes. Though recipes differ, all contain aromatic spices, most commonly cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, cardamom, and anise.
Some variations are dusted with powdered sugar, though that is not a traditional ingredient. Molasses and honey are also used to sweeten the cookies.
Pfeffernüsse are commonly mistaken for kruidnoten or spicy nuts in English. While they are both famous holiday cookies, the kruidnoten are harder, have a darker brown color, and have a different shape. Russian tea cakes are also confused with pfeffernüsse, especially when dusted in powdered sugar.