Pfeffernüsse

Every year, I look forward to Christmas baking!  Panettone is one of my absolute favourites, but nothing says the holidays quite like gingerbread.  I love the aroma of warm spices from freshly baked gingerbread wafting through my home!  I usually make gingerbread men, and I always make ginger cookies.

Two years ago, after my visit to Nuremberg, which is reknowned for its gingerbread, I was inspired to make Elisenlebkuchen, which uses Lebkuchengewuerz, a German gingerbread spice mix.  While researching Elisenlebkuchen, I discovered that Pfeffernuesse (or pfeffernüsse) – glazed German gingerbread cookies – also use the same spice mix.  I’d eaten pfeffernuesse and really liked them, so I figured I’d use the Lebkuchengewuerz to make some of these too.  I used this recipe, without any changes, and they turned out so good!  The only thing I did differently was to make the cookies a little bigger.

The next time I made pfeffernuesse, which was just before Christmas last year, I was intending to post about it, but unfortunately, I was using a kitchen where the lighting for photography was far from ideal, and my pictures didn’t turn out the best.  With the shorter days, it was also too late to take advantage of any natural lighting by the time I had finished baking.

Recently, I made pfeffernuesse again, and made sure to get some decent pictures!  Whereas previously, I had bought the lebkuchengewuerz from a gourmet food store, this time they didn’t have any, so I had to resort to making my own, using this recipe.  I had all the spices on hand, except for mace, which is not that easy to find here, so I substituted with an equal amount of nutmeg instead (in addition to the nutmeg that was already called for).  The cookies still turned out really yummy!

For the glaze, you can add more or less water to the icing sugar, depending on how white of a glaze you prefer.  I think they look prettier with a white, opaque glaze, although I found them much too sweet.  I made a second batch of cookies with a much more diluted glaze of 6 tablespoons of water to 2 cups of icing sugar, which was much better, in my opinion.

If you’re looking for a different kind of gingerbread this year, do give these cookies a try!

PFEFFERNUESSE (ICED GERMAN GINGERBREAD COOKIES) (Makes about 40 cookies)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-4 teaspoons Lebkuchengewürz (see recipe below to make your own)
1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup pure honey
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 large egg

For a thick, white glaze:
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons hot water 

For a thinner glaze:
2 cups icing sugar
5 tablespoons hot water

For the Lebkuchengewuerz:

2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1/4 teaspoon ground mace (or substitute with nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1) If making your own Lebkuchengewuerz, combine the spices and store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  For superior flavor results, grind these spices from toasted and freshly ground whole spices: heat a dry skillet over medium heat and toast the spices until very fragrant.  Be careful not to scorch the spices or they will become bitter.  Using the freshly ground blend within a few days is optimal.
2) In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, Lebkuchengewuerz, white pepper and almond meal.  Set aside.
3) Combine the brown sugar, honey, butter and cream in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until melted and the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
4) Stir in the flour mixture into the wet mixture.  Once incorporated, stir in the egg until thoroughly combined.
5) Turn the mixture out onto some plastic wrap and wrap the dough tightly.  Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.
6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
7) Remove dough from the plastic wrap and immediately roll it into two strands, each about 1 inch thick.  Slice the rolls into 1 inch thick rounds and roll each round into a ball (each ball should be about 1 inch large, or 17 grams each, if you want them precisely the same size!).  Work quickly while the dough is still chilled.
8) Place the cookie balls on a lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and let the cookies cool completely.
9) To make the glaze, combine icing sugar and water and mix until smooth.
10) Dip each cookie in the glaze, letting the excess drip off, and place them on a wire rack positioned over a cookie sheet to catch the drips.  Let the glaze dry until fully hardened.
11) Store cookies in an airtight container in a cool place.  They will keep for at least 2 weeks (they’re usually stored longer) and the flavour only gets better with time.

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