Our German Head Office, located at Offenbach am Main, is dazzled by Christmas festive preparations. The lights of the holiday season are brightening up the town, and the smell of Christmas is all in the air at the place which gave the world the festive Pfeffernuss cookies!
Yes, it was Offenbach, where in 1757 the baker Philipp Fleischmann created the recipe for the pastry, which even Goethe himself found divine.
Pfeffernusse, or as the Germans call them Pfeffernüsse, are commonly mistaken for Kruidnoten or Pepernoten, the Dutch spice nuts, as are all traditionally eaten around Saint Nicholas’ Day (the Dutch Sinterklaas is on 5th of December, while the German Nikolaustag is on 6th) and share similar ingredients. Yet, the Dutch cookies are harder and have a different colour and shape.
The German ‘pepper nuts’ are quite similar to Lebkuchen, the regular German gingerbread, but with less ginger and ground black pepper instead. Rolled into balls and glazed with powdered sugar, and a real plethora of Christmas spices, as nutmeg, cloves, ginger, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and of course – black pepper.
Based on their name, one would naturally expect to find a big variety and amount of nuts inside, but that is misleading, as traditionally the cookies do not contain any nuts at all, while the name takes after their shape.
Yet of course, with every region and even family having their own variation of the
recipe, it is not uncommon to taste a pfeffernusse with varieties of ground or finely chopped nuts in it. Other optional ingredients include orange peels, citrus zest and brandy or rum.
Pfeffernusse contain no nuts, but also typically no butter and oil, which puts them among the biscuits with the least amount of fat, but yeah, they can be quite hard and is best to be soaked in a hot drink before consumption.
Since the 1850s, the pepper nuts have been part of the traditional German Christmas season and December 23rd is all about them, as it is National Pfeffernusse Day.
The flow of German immigrants to America during the 19th century, resulted in the ginger biscuit crossing the Atlantic, first reported by The Los Angeles Times in 1891.
And it did not take long the festive German cookies to land at the Christmas tables of many American families. 1928, Hoyt’s Consumption of Wealth: “A German woman moved into a small New England village, and in three years all the housewives were making pfeffernüsse at Christmas time.“
If you are looking for Christmas treat recipe inspirations and enjoy spice gingerbread, you will surely fall in love with the pfeffernusse. And the best about these small delights is that they are easy to preserve and their taste even improves with a few days age.