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Family Story

Pfeffernusse—what’s so difficult about that? Saying it? Spelling it? No, the most difficult thing about these tempting, addictive little holiday treats is resisting them! Pfeffernusse cookies, which translates to “pepper-nuts” cookies, are so named because of the black pepper and nuts in the ingredients list. The recipe for these delicious German confections dates back several centuries, and the cookies have been woven into the Christmas traditions of families all over the world, including mine. When living in Bavaria, my ancestor, Henry Brinkmeyer, would help his father in the family bakery. In 1853, the 25-year-old Henry set sail for America with the pfeffernusse cookie recipe in his pocket and a forever love for Clara Von Frank in his heart. Clara’s family did not approve of Henry and felt she could do much better for herself. Nevertheless, Henry promised to send passage for Clara as soon as he was able, and she soon joined him in America. Henry and Clara married and had thirteen children. Clara continued to bake the traditional pfeffernusse, and as her children grew, they became an essential part of the Christmas cookie baking. The bakery size mix of pfeffernusse cookie dough is stiff and hard to stir. Clever Clara created a game called “Who can make the most stirs?” After passing the dough bowl around the table, the sibling to make the most stirs won a badge of strength. The pfeffernusse recipe has been passed down from Henry’s father to Henry, then on to his daughter Clara M. Brinkmeyer Nigg, her daughter Louise Nigg Marquardt, her daughter Doris Marquardt Akin, her daughter Virginia Akin Gray (me!), her daughter Deborah Gray Turberville, and her daughters Deirdre M. Skaggs and Ashley M. Hickey. That’s eight generations (and counting)! Today, in our respective homes, my daughter Deborah and I carry on the Christmas pfeffernusse cookie tradition, baking dozens of these delightful delicacies to share with family and friends or even just to enjoy with our own cup of hot tea. The bakery size recipe will make about 25 dozen hard, spicy cookies the size of a silver dollar.


1 Step

Day One: Separate the eggs with the whites into a large mixing bowl for a countertop mixer and the yolks in a small mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites until stiff. beat the yolks until foamy then add to the whites. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is creamy and the sugar is dissolved. Now add the fruits, nuts, and lemon zest to the egg mixture. In another bowl, sift together the flour, spices, and baking powder. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. The dough will get very stiff so if you do not have a powerful mixer, you will need to mix by hand at some point. Once all ingredients are incorporated and mixed well, cover this dough and put in the refrigerator overnight to season.

2 Step

Day Two: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Juice the two lemons and set aside. Prepare the cookie sheets with Pam spray or use parchment paper for each batch. Sift flour onto your rolling pin and surface. Scoop out a large handful of dough from the bowl, cover it in flour and roll to about 1/4" thick. Cut with a round biscuit cutter (about 1 1/2" diameter or smaller) and place on the prepared cookie sheet. These do not spread as they cook so spacing isn't necessary. Make sure you work with the dough scoop you started with until it is all used up. Do not add fresh dough to the scoop as this does not work well for this cookie. Once the sheet is full, take the lemon juice in a spoon and gently, carefully rub the back of the spoon over the top of each cookie coating them with juice. Be careful not to spill excess juice onto the sheet around the cookie as this will burn. Now bake the cookies for about 13-14 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and take from the cookie sheet onto a clean dishtowel spread out onto the counter to cool. This recipe makes about 25 dozen.

3 Step

The most difficult part of this recipe is resisting temptation, but it is the secret to making them a special treat. Put the cookies away for at least two weeks to "season" totally before you enjoy. You will know when it is time!


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