This is a cookbook published in 1975 by my church in Gackle. You can find a reproduction (think Christmas gift) at https://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/cookbooks/cookbooklist.html.. You can find another recipe at the bottom of this post. Please ask any questions in the comment area of this blog. And, listen to the Main Street Eats episode airing today at 3 p.m. on Prairie Public Broadcasting. You can download the podcast at a later date by clicking the link on the home page of this website, or visiting theirs.
A Prairie Legacy memory
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It was not a rabbit. It was
Pfeffernusse: – a German Russian Tradition.
Pfeffernuesse are traditionally a firm cookie that nearly always showed up on the Christmas goodie table at my house. They are classified a "dunker" by most people. A cookie made just for that cup of coffee after a big meal. The spices in Pfeffernuesse are quite complimentary to an after-dinner aperitif maybe only if you are a dedicated German from Russia.
These are a cookie like a fine wine -- they get better with age. Sometimes our batch lasts until Easter time when they are at their peak flavor. The flavors include ginger, cloves, cinnamon, maybe mace; blended, of course, with dark, cold coffee and honey.
The two standout flavors are pepper and anise. Hence the name "PepperNut" or Pfeffernusse.
Round and small, Pfeffernuesse look like tiny snowballs with a fresh coat of powdered sugar. They are of Dutch or German origin. Recipes can be found all over the internet, but the vintage cookbooks and recipe cards from my childhood require a strong German-Russian hand as they incorporate up to 10 pounds of flour in a single batch.
"What," you may ask could I do with that many cookies? Oh, like fine wine, Pfefernuesse age with time. If they become too hard for your palate, place the heel of your bread in the container, it will soften them. You may need to re-sugar them before serving, but they will soften up quite nicely even if you don't have them stored in the freezer.
Baking flavorful Pfeffernuesse cookies requires fresh spice and a specific type of anise. Anise the spice is not star anise that you may find in Chinese Five Spice Powder.
Our anise is a seed.
Spice is part of a plant, other than leaves when dried can become a flavoring ingredient in cooking. Spices can be produced from seeds (anise, cumin, coriander, mustard, and many others), bark (cinnamon), fruit (peppercorns, vanilla), roots (horseradish), or flower buds (cloves). If you are fortunate enough to find whole cinnamon and nutmeg, you can grind or pulverize in a mortar and pestle you very own very fresh spices.
The anise that makes the best cookies is an essential oil. You can find anise ground, whole or as an extract. But, I prefer the oil for cookies, since the flavor is more intense and stays with the cookie.
Olive Nation, King Arthur, and Amazon are just a few places to source anise oil. Be sure and purchase from a baking supply company to make sure you are receiving food grade oil.
If you are unfamiliar with anise, it is akin to the flavor of black licorice; which is the only true licorice there is. Perhaps Pfeffernuesse are an acquired taste, one that stems from Christmas on the prairie in German-Russian country. But, we will save more on GR Christmases for future posts.
Accept no substitute for the homemade variety of this traditional cookie. SO, here is my recipe and a second smaller one for you to bake this weekend. Don't forget to allow the cookies to age until Christmas; unless you drop one on the floor - those are always fair game.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.