My memories of nibbling countless pfeffernusse in my childhood kitchen are strong, and according to my mother, totally false. I have mentioned before that it was not uncommon to wake up in the morning to the scent of freshly baked cookies. On nights when she just wasn’t ready for sleep, Mom would bake a little something while the rest of the family slept. In my memory, pfeffernusse cookies were on that counter, alongside lebkuchen, chocolate chip, or whatever else she had a craving to make. So when I asked her about these particular cookies and her late-night baking habits, Mom gently replied, “Nope Honey, never made those. I promise.”
I’m going to look up false memories on a few psychology websites. You, however, should really make these. Pfeffernusse, or “pepper nuts” are one of my all-time favorite cookies. These wee little guys are meant to be nibbled slowly- they have a biscotti-like crunch and a powerful amount of warm spices that keep your tongue tingling long after they are eaten. My version is just a teeny bit boozy, since the cookie and the glaze have a little brandy mixed in, too.
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp brandy
1 tsp instant coffee (I use Starbucks)
2 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp very finely ground black pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup very finely chopped candied orange peel
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp brandy
Beat the eggs and both sugars on high speed until very light. Add the brandy, coffee, and orange zest, and mix well. Sift the flours, baking powder, salt, and all the spices together. add to the egg mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined.
Scoop into teaspoon-sized balls and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Lightly cover each baking sheet with a cotton towel and allow to dry for a minimum of four hours (or overnight).
Preheat the oven to 325F. Uncover the baking sheets and bake until lightly golden, about 18 minutes.
Sift the powdered sugar, then whisk together with the water and brandy. Set aside.
Once the cookies are cool, dip each in the glaze and place on a drying rack. When they are dry, sprinkle with a little powdered sugar.
Eat with reckless holiday abandon.