Peppernuts: Cookies as Small as Peas
I remember standing on a chair, shirt covered in flour, rolling out little dough “snakes” to make tiny peppernut cookies. My mother would tell me stories about working in an office in Kansas where each holiday season almost every person would have a bowl of peppernuts on his or her desk holding their family’s secret recipe. Everyone would sample and compare how each cookie was just a bit different. A source of pride was having cookies the size of peas.
Peppernuts, in Low German pfeffernüsse, have their roots in Holland, Germany, Denmark, Latvia and the Ukraine. The recipes for this traditional holiday cookie are as varied as the families who bake them—chewy or crunchy, spiced and sweet, some with black walnuts, dates or citrus.
I lived in a house for a time with a friend who even had a recipe that involved using scissors to cut up spiced gumdrops into six or seven little pieces to include in a sugar-cookie-style dough.
The recipe that follows is reminiscent of my family’s recipe: spicy, crunchy and unbelievably addicting. Janneken Smucker, a Michiana native, shared this recipe with me when we lived together in Seattle. We started talking about peppernuts when she opened up my refrigerator and discovered my bottle of corn syrup in the door. We laughed that a bottle of this overly processed syrup would last for years because it was for our once-yearly peppernut baking.
Janneken told me that this recipe from her husband’s family made the best peppernuts she had ever eaten. With apologies to my childhood recipe, I would have to agree.
Peppernuts are a great yearly tradition to make with children. They love rolling the “snakes” to cut into the miniature cookies.