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Pfeffernusse Cookies (German Spice Cookies)

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!

Pfeffernusse Cookies a German spice cookie on a cooling rack with a pretty red plaid towel underneath.

Pfeffernusse Pronunciation

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.

Original family recipe typed onto a 3x5 card, barely visible with peppercorns and other spices nearby.
Original recipe card for Pfeffernusse, at least 50 years old!

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!

Landscape image of pfeffernusse cookies on a wire rack with a red plaid napkin beneath.

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!

Primary Ingredients 

The measurements and instructions are all in the free printable recipe at the end of the post.

Ingredients for pfeffernusse German spice cookies L-R sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and pepper plus eggs.
  • 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.

Instructions

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)

Variations

  • 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.
German spiced pfeffernusse cookies dusted in powdered sugar and sitting on a baking tray.

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.
Spiced German Cookie, Pfeffernusse single cookie on wire cooling rack.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does pfeffernusse mean?

Pfeffernusse is directly translated to mean pepper nut, but anyone in Germany will know you’re referring to the spiced cookie.

Are pfeffernusse cookies German gingerbread?

Almost! Pfeffernuss are rounded and dusted or glazed with sugar, but the spices are similar.

How do you store pfeffernusse cookies?

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!

Are these no butter cookies?

They are! A unique no butter cookie that is still soft, but has no dairy in them, the eggs provide lift and flavor.

Can I make a smaller batch of pfeffernusse cookies?

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.
Wire rack holding several pfeffernusse cookies rolled in powdered sugar with a pretty red plaid napkin beneath.

Related Christmas Dessert Recipes:

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Pfeffernusse Cookies a German spice cookie on a cooling rack with a pretty red plaid towel underneath.
Yield: 36-48 Cookies

Pfeffernusse Cookies | Traditional German Spice Cookie

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

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!

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. Cut this recipe in half for a smaller batch of cookies, my Grandmother had 6 boys! She had to feed a lot!

Notes

Variations

  • 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 Pfeffernusse 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!

    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    36

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 103Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 21mgSodium: 22mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 1gSugar: 11gProtein: 2g

    The nutritional information is estimated and may not be entirely accurate, at times it pulls information for suggestions and options which may increase calories, etc. Nutritional information will change based on used ingredients, quantities used, etc.

    Did you make this recipe?

    Go ahead, MAKE MY DAY! PIN on Pinterest and Comment on the blog!

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    Nikki Lee

    Thursday 18th of November 2021

    These look delicious!

    Kathleen Pope

    Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

    Thank you Nikki, we think so!

    Julie Menghini

    Thursday 18th of November 2021

    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!

    Kathleen Pope

    Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

    Haha! Yes, they are perfect for a cookie platter!

    Michelle

    Tuesday 16th of November 2021

    So delicious!!! I followed your instructions and it came out wonderful. Thank you for the recipe!

    Kathleen Pope

    Thursday 18th of November 2021

    Wonderful!!!

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