Pfeffernusse Cookies (German Spice Cookies)
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Baked with the perfect combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper (or pfeffer), Pfeffernusse Cookies are my family’s favorite traditional German cookies. Bursting with warm, holiday spices, these German spice cookies are tender and warm and the best dunking cookie as they cool!
I love the spices of the holidays, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and especially family traditions that taste delicious. And these deliciously spiced cookies are in our cookie jar every Christmas.
If you’re looking for another dessert recipe, check out Joy’s Classic Sugar Cookies that are crunchy and buttery, and my Eggnog Gooey Butter Cookies are a must with their chewy texture and delicious flavor. Christmas Simmering Spices are wonderful for a hostess gift. And these Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies are the best on any cookie exchange table!
How do you say this crazy named cookie? The “P” is silent, sorta, a little “puff of P” at the beginning is more authentic. <feffer – noosa> is the more typical German pronunciation, I grew up calling them pfeffernuss (feffer – noos), no “a or e” on the end.
History behind Pfeffernüsse Cookies
This pfeffernüsse cookie recipe comes from my dad’s mom, born in the late 1800’s. Check out that typed (on an old-fashioned typewriter) recipe; I think my mom typed this, but even still, it’s probably at least 50 years old. (see image below).
They’re traditionally made in Germany for Christmas and other special holidays. The aroma of a fresh batch always reminds me of my dad and grandmother. Grandma’s recipe makes a lot, I typically cut the recipe in half, after-all she had 6 boys, I have 2! You can read more about her in my post for the best pasta salad.
I made these cookies alongside my mom since I can remember, I don’t remember Christmas without these traditional German cookies. My dad loved them when they sat in an airtight container for 3-5 days before eating, they get hard, like a biscotti and are perfect for dipping in your tea or coffee. When the German spiced cookies age in a sealed airtight container, the flavors intensify, making them even more fantastic!
I prefer them softer, freshly baked. Warm and chewy, with warm spices dancing in your mouth! These are not peppery at all, just the best combination of spices in a Christmas cookie, a no butter cookie to be exact!
Are these Authentic Pfeffernusse Cookies?
About as authentic and traditional as I know. My grandparents were 100% German, tracing our heritage back to Prussian royalty, these pfeffernusse cookies were my grandmother’s family recipe, makes them authentic.
Some might argue that traditional pfeffernusse are coated in a powdered sugar glaze, while others like me insist that they should be coated in powdered sugar. So just like Italian sauces vary by region, so do these no butter cookies!
The measurements and instructions are all in the free printable recipe at the end of the post.
- Flour | I use organic unbleached white flour, but any flour will work. For a gluten-free option, use a GF flour blend.
- Sugar | The sweetness of pure cane sugar is essential for this German spiced cookie.
- Eggs | Eggs help bind your ingredients together in addition to giving the final product a great taste.
- Baking Powder | This is a leavening agent to help your dough rise when baking.
- Spices | The combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper (pfeffer), allspice, and ginger give this pfeffernusse cookies recipe its memorable flavor.
- Powdered Sugar | You only need enough to roll your cookies in, but they look so lovely when finished this way.
Beat your eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add all the spices.
Whisk the baking powder and flour together and slowly mix into the batter until incorporated.
Knead the batter with a mixer for a couple of minutes, using the paddle attachment.
Arrange small scoops of dough onto a baking sheet. Typically about walnut sized or slightly smaller, you can use a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon. The dough will be dryer than a typical dough, but should hold together when pressed and formed into balls.
Bake for 15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and coat with powdered sugar. (optional)
- Instead of coating with powdered sugar, you can make a glaze with powdered sugar and milk or try my browned butter glaze or try my amazing basic vanilla buttercream glaze.
- Top these pfeffernusse cookies with a metallic luster dust for an extra special look, or mix a little into the powdered sugar to add pop and sparkle to your cookies.
- Ground red pepper is another pretty topping if you want more spice and color, it’s a little sweeter than regular black peppercorns.
- Have you ever tried baking with anise? Anise is a ground herb that tastes a little like black licorice. It goes well with this recipe. If you prefer the licorice notes, you can add a bit of extract or ground anise to the spices.
- Honey can replace the sugar! Because honey is so sweet, you’ll only need 1-¾ cups, though I have never made them with honey, so let me know if you try this!
- My grandmother’s recipe called for diced, candied orange or lemon peel — gag (sorry!). My mom never put that in, but if you like candied fruit, then dice and toss in 4 tablespoons of your favorite.
Gluten-Free Pfeffernuss Cookies
A gluten-free flour blend or almond flour will work wonders in this recipe if you can’t have gluten. While I have not made these gluten-free I think that they would turn out fabulous!
TFC Pro Tips
- Pro Tip 1 | Don’t skimp on your spices in this recipe! This dessert is known for its combination of spices. So, be brave and put in the black pepper, it’s really a tiny amount!
- Pro Tip 2 | To make the German spiced cookies the same size, use a scoop.
- Pro Tip 3 | If you want to get ahead for the holidays, you can make this recipe in advance. Freeze the dough or the cookies after they’re baked.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pfeffernusse is directly translated to mean pepper nut, but anyone in Germany will know you’re referring to the spiced cookie.
Almost! Pfeffernuss are rounded and dusted or glazed with sugar, but the spices are similar.
Keep them in a sealed container. They are usually eaten a few days after making them to give the flavors time to deepen. If you don’t eat them after 1-2 days, they will be soft. After 4 days, they will be crunchy! Both ways are delicious!
They are! A unique no butter cookie that is still soft, but has no dairy in them, the eggs provide lift and flavor.
Yes, in fact, I typically make half a recipe, the measurements easily cut in half.
- Since these no butter cookies are like German gingerbread, they benefit from having a good stand mixer, helping blend and knead the cookie dough together.
- Sturdy half sheet pans are a must, the USA brand is my favorite!
- And don’t forget the parchment paper making it easier for clean up.
More Christmas Dessert Recipes:
- Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies from my friend Debi! Love these!
- Mint Fudge Chocolate Brownies | not to be missed this holiday season!
- Oatmeal Rolled Sugar Cookies | Yes, a slightly unusual but so delicious sugar cookie!
- Buckeye Bars | the same decadent Christmas candy without all the work.
- Greek Butter Cookies | Koulourakia | These are simply, fun and amazing!
- Salted Chocolate Graham Bites | a delicious, gooey Christmas treat
- Easy Traditional Tiramisu | Because they are neighboring countries you should make this too!
- The Best Key Lime Pie | Simply the best!
- Old Fashioned Lemon Squares Recipe
- White Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake (Instant Pot or Oven)
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Pfeffernusse Cookies | Traditional German Spice Cookie
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups pure cane sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, pfeffer
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 4 tablespoons minced candied orange peel, optional
- Powdered Sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper, silpat or grease with a little spray oil or other non-stick spray.
- Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add spices, mixing to combine. Whisk baking powder and flour together, then add ½ cup at a time until incorporated, the mixture will be thick and stiff. Knead in the mixer on low for 2 minutes.
- Using a small cookie scoop, 1-2 tablespoons, about the size of walnuts. Arrange on parchment lined baking sheet (or be sure to grease cookie sheet).
- Bake in preheated 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, remove and cool for 5 minutes, then carefully coat in powdered sugar if desired. To coat in powdered sugar, place 1-3 pfeffernusse at a time into a bowl or baggie filled with about 1 cup of powdered sugar, turn to coat, remove and let cool completely on wire rack.
- The notes that I remember the most from my Grandma Flo, and my dad, was to store these cookies in an airtight container (they used tins back in the day) for 4 days before serving. The flavors deepen even more. But they do get hard, the longer they sit, they become more like a biscotti , a great tea or coffee dipping cookie. I personally like them on day 1 or 2, as they are a bit softer.
- I always am reminded of my dad and Grandmother and the German side of our family when I make these cookies, they can be an acquired taste, but they are a spiced cookie that we love!
- Cut this recipe in half for a smaller batch of cookies, my Grandmother had 6 boys! She had to feed a lot!
✱ Kathleen’s Tips
Gluten-Free Pfeffernusse CookiesA gluten-free flour blend or almond flour will work wonders in this recipe if you can’t have gluten. While I have not made these gluten-free I think that they would turn out fabulous!
The Fresh Cooky is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.
About Kathleen Pope
Recipe Innovator | Food Photographer | Food Writer
Hi, I’m Kathleen Pope. Here at The Fresh Cooky you will find easy, mostly from-scratch, trusted recipes for all occasions. From speedy dinners to tasty desserts, with easy step-by-step instructions. I am here to help teach you how to make mouthwatering recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. Read more about Kathleen here.
I made these pfefferneusse cookies & they turned out delicious.
Yay!! So glad Barbara!! They are a family favorite!!
What special memories these cookies bring every Christmas! Family recipes are the best — these little spice cookies never disappoint.
Thank you Sheila!
My sister lives in Germany and has told me about these cookies, and I can’t wait to try them! So glad I found your recipe.
I will be curious what she says! It’s a family recipe from the 1800’s – traditionally you also put dried fruit in it, but my Grandmother made them without.
These look so delicious! I love all the warm spices – yum!
Thanks Liz! They are so good!
My mom always made these cookies when I was a kid. I was excited to find this recipe. It tasted just like hers. Thanks so much, now I can make these any time!
Can’t wait to make this! Thank you!
Hope you love it Elizabeth!!
These look delicious!
Thank you Nikki, we think so!
I just love old family recipes and while I can’t pretend to know how to say the name of these cookies, we’ll definitely be making another batch! They’re delicious and perfect for our holiday cookie platter!
Haha! Yes, they are perfect for a cookie platter!
So delicious!!! I followed your instructions and it came out wonderful. Thank you for the recipe!
Family recipes are the best — thanks for sharing your grandmother’s special cookies with all of us! Perfect for the holidays!