Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Cookie of the Week: Pfeffernusen

For my final Christmas cookie recipe, I made a cookie that I remember from the Christmases of my childhood. Christmas cookies were not a part of our tradition except for Pfeffernuse. My father always bought a box and ate most of them himself. The rest of the family didn’t care for them. I never understood why he liked cookies that tasted just plain weird. I chalked it up to the powdered sugar. He liked powdered sugar doughnuts, so it made sense, sort of, that he liked cookies with powdered sugar.

Years later, when a relative was sharing family secrets with me, I got an inkling of why he liked pfeffernuse cookies. My father had a German grandmother. It’s not surprising that I never heard of her. My parents were born during the Great Depression and grew up during World War II when everything German was bad. People of German descent were suspect so families with any German connections concealed that fact from everyone.

Pfeffernuse cookies were most likely a holiday tradition during my father’s childhood prior to WWII. The taste of them years later probably brought back fond memories for him. In honor of the woman I never knew, I made pfeffernuse cookies for Christmas.

I chose a recipe from Martha Stewart. Her cookies are always so buttery. I was a little concerned because the batter was very wet but I was able to roll it into balls with a little effort. The cookies baked up perfectly. Shaking them in the powdered sugar was fun. The taste was . . . well, I don’t know how my father could stand eating those hard, stale-tasting little cookies for so many years. These were soft and flavorful. They will become part of my holiday tradition.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

(source: Martha Stewart Holiday Baking 2002)

1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup unsulfured molasses
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a brown paper bag.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmet, cloves, and baking soda. Set aside.

Place butter, brown sugar, and molasses in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture; beat until just combined. Pinch off dough in tablespoon amounts; roll into 1 ¼-inch balls. Arrange balls 1 ½ inches apart on prepared baking sheets. (Dough can be frozen at this point, covered tightly with plastic wrap, up to 1 month.)

Bake until cookies are golden and firm to the touch with slight crackng, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Working in batches, place cookies in paper bag; shake until well coated. Let cool completely on wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 3 dozen

Recycle: molasses bottle, vanilla bottle

Compost: egg shells

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