As a kid, (and coming from an extensively German family) we would always have Pfeffernusse in the house during the holidays. While these delectable, gently spiced cookies are difficult to find here in Utah, I did find them some time ago at World Market (and a friend tells me that a good version can often be found at Trader Joes) but they were dry and covered in frosting. Not my idea of a good time.
Of course, why settle for second best, when I can just make them myself? While we are on the subject of proverbs, if you learn how to make something for yourself, you’ll never have to look elsewhere for them, or hope that they are not discontinued! These cookies are a two day project – the dough is made on day one, chilled over night, and then assembled, baked, and coated on day two, so plan ahead.
This recipe is adapted from an old printing that Gourmet magazine inherited and published from a German immigrant that worked as a baker’s assistant in Brooklyn, and as any good New Yorker knows, that is where most Germans settled when they immigrated to the US. While I grew up with several German bakeries close to me, their numbers have dwindled as the years have passed. As my Aunt was saying this morning, “no one” makes these by hand any more. They are reasonably easy to make though, if not time consuming, but I think that as time passes from the generation that brought these recipes from Germany, there is less demand for these particular traditions. I volunteer to carry the torch!
FOR THE COOKIES:
8 tbs of softened butter
3/4 cup, packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
3 cups sifted, spooned, and leveled all purpose flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp anise seeds
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp hot water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
With a paddle attachment, cream your butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in your egg and molasses until combined.
In a medium bowl, sift spoon and level 1 1/2 cups of flour, adding in your salt, anise seeds, nutmeg, and cloves after. Briefly stir to combine dry ingredients. Add this flour mixture to your molasses mixture, until just combined.
Dissolve your baking soda into the hot water, and add this to your batter.
Sift, spoon, and level your last 1 1/2 cups flour, and add this to your batter, mixing just until combined.
Wrap your dough in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and set your racks in the top and bottom thirds of your oven, and either butter two half sheet pans, or line them with a silpat.
Roll balls of dough that are about the size of a cherry tomato, or rounded measuring teaspoon, and set them 7 across, 5 down (about an inch or so apart).
Bake for 12 minutes, rotating your pans halfway through. When baking is complete, remove your cookies to a cooling rack.
While cooling your cookies, bring your sugar and water just to a boil. You can choose to set the pan on the counter to cool, or immerse the bottom of the pan into a bowl of ice water to chill it quickly.
Once the cookies and the sugar water have cooled, coat each cookie in the sugar water, allowing excess to drip from the cookie, and remove again to the cooling rack to dry for 2 hours.
Add your powdered/confectioner’s sugar to a bowl (about 2 cups), and add each cookie to the powdered sugar, turning to coat. Gently tap with a fork or a knife to shake off excess powdered sugar.