German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernusse)


German for "pepper nut," pfeffernusse cookies are named for the pinch of pepper added to the dough before baking. It joins a quartet of warm spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.



  • 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • ¾ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar

  • ¼ cup unsulfured molasses

  • 1 large egg

  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  • 3 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

  • cup whole milk, plus more if needed

  • ¼ teaspoon kirsch or other cherry-flavored liqueur, optional

To decorate (optional)

  • Coarsely ground pink peppercorns

  • ½ teaspoon luster dust, preferably metallic

  • ¼ teaspoon kirsch


  1. Cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture; beat until just combined. Pinch off a heaping teaspoon of dough, roll into a ball, and place on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining dough, spacing balls 1 1/2 inches apart. (Dough can be frozen at this point, covered tightly with plastic wrap, up to 1 month.)

  4. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden and firm to the touch with slight cracking, about 15 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool completely.

  5. Glaze: Fit a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar, milk, and kirsch, if desired. Using a fork, dip each cookie in glaze to coat. Tap to remove excess glaze and place on wire rack to dry. Repeat with remaining cookies.

  6. To decorate: While the glaze is still wet, top cookies with a small pinch of peppercorns, if desired. Alternatively, let glaze dry completely before mixing together luster dust and kirsch with a small paintbrush. Lightly brush tops of cookies with luster dust mixture, if desired. Let dry before serving. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

    pfeffernusse cookies
    Mike Krautter


You can skip the glaze and decorations and finish the cookies with confectioners' sugar instead. Place 1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar in a brown paper bag. After baking, transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Working in batches, place cookies in paper bag; shake until well coated. Let cool completely on wire rack.

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