Grandma Bohlmann's Pfeffernusse

December 30, 2013
5 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes about 11 dozen
Author Notes

I can still picture Grandpa shelling the walnuts for these Christmastime favorites. The original recipe called for lard. I now use butter. I also bake them on kitchen parchment, something unheard of in Grandma's day. —mary beth

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Mary beth has just celebrated her one year anniversary as a member of Food52.
WHAT: Bite-size spice cookies just like Grandma used to make.
HOW: Whisk flour with ground cardamom and more ground cloves than you’re comfortable with. Add in a mixture of baking soda and molasses, an egg, and chopped walnuts. Form into tiny cookies, bake for 10 minutes, then dip in powdered sugar.
WHY WE LOVE IT: These cookies don’t rely on a long list of spices for that traditional pfeffernuse flavor—instead, they lean heavily on ground cloves (we used 2 teaspoons, but go for 3 if you're more daring). They’re sweet, spicy, and small enough that you can fit two in your mouth at once. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves (see editor's headnote)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Whisk flour, cardamom, and cloves together. Set aside.
  2. In a 2-cup or larger measuring cup, stir the baking soda into the molasses. Set aside. (This will foam up quite bit, thus the need for a larger cup.)
  3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well again.
  4. Add molasses and flour mixtures to butter mixture in 3 to 4 additions, alternating between wet and dry ingredients. Beat well after each addition—the batter will be sticky.
  5. Fold in the walnuts. Refrigerate overnight or up to several days before baking.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350° F and use your hands to roll the dough into 3/4-inch balls. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Roll in them powdered sugar while still warm.
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23 Reviews

Madeline K. December 25, 2022
By the way, it’s not a disaster if you also add a tsp of baking POWDER. And some brandy if the dough is too dry. Also they do spread a little, so leave a bit of space between the balls.
Anne February 5, 2019
I make these for Christmas most years, and they're delightful! I go for the full amount of cloves, and usually add some other spices to round things out (ginger, black pepper, a bit of cinnamon, etc). They are great for shipping as they keep really well at room temperature.

This year I also made a gluten free batch so I could finally eat some! Subbed in a variety of GF flours (heavy on almond, millet, and sorghum for texture) and added an extra egg. They still spread quite a bit, and they're not as round as the normal version, but tasted awesome. The batter also freezes perfectly--I usually roll a few dozen into balls, pop them in a flat container, and bake a few months later.
Chunchine December 31, 2018
What kind of molasses should I use? I made these and the molasses flavor is pretty overwhelming.
Catherine December 29, 2018
Was looking for a new cookie for the holidays and decided to give a try. They are delicious, very straightforward to make. One week later they still look and taste great, but reading the comments it seems the cookie has some longevity. That's a plus. Will be adding this recipe to the rotation.
Kay December 23, 2018
I just took the cookies out of the oven and they look just like your picture which is amazing at 7500 ft elevation. Taste and texture is great. I anxious to have a few after they mellow a bit.
Madeline October 21, 2018
I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago and they have since become a tradition for me. My absolute favourite Christmas cookies to make for myself and others!
charlotte December 19, 2016
Hi there, could I use soft brown sugar in place of molasses? :)
mary B. December 19, 2016
I wouldn't advise it. The moisture content is quite different.
melissa December 19, 2016
the cookies have a pronounced molasses flavor (in a good way) - i think it would detract from the taste by using brown sugar!
melissa December 15, 2016
i was introduced to pfeffernussen when TJ's sold them one christmas a few years ago. these are really tasty -- partner said they were among my best cookies. i rolled them too big and ended up with 72, rather than 11 dozen, so i had them in the oven for 15 mins. they harden when you take them out of the oven, so don't overcook them!
mary B. December 14, 2016
No, they don't spread much at all. 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart is fine.
melissa December 14, 2016
Thanks! :)
melissa December 14, 2016
do these spread much while baking? (i.e., should you space them far apart on the cookie sheet?)
Kristine December 11, 2016
I'm a firm believer that Pfeffernüssen need Pepper....or they're just spice cookies.
Debbie December 30, 2015
We just made these and used 2 teaspoons of cloves...they are wonderful! Of course they are even better after several days (not so strong and we worried the 2 t. was a mistake at first!). My mother keeps insisting that they should have black pepper. Is that really a traditional ingredient? I think they would be good with the bottoms dipped into dark chocolate- something like the chocolate covered, soft gingerbread cookies that Aldi's sells. Ours had a nice cross between soft and chewy texture. We cooked them a little longer, they were just too soft at 10 minutes.
Mary H. December 14, 2015
Just wondering...these cookies have the German word for pepper in their name, but no pepper in their name. Any reason for that?
Mary H. December 14, 2015
Should be " no pepper in the recipe." Oops.
Helene December 14, 2015
Mary Beth, is the outcome of the pferreneuse cookie recipe soft or hard? My boyfriend likes the outside coating to be hard. Any ideas? He has been to Germany so he knows what ithe supposed to taste like. Thanks.
Food52 December 15, 2015
From Mary Beth:

These cookies are soft when first made. They will harden over time, which is apparently what many people like. My Grandma recommended making them 3-4 weeks ahead of Christmas so the flavors would meld and texture harden.

I have tried the Pfeffernusse that you can buy packaged in Germany. They have a hard outer shell. I don't know how that is achieved, perhaps they are glazed with something. My recipe is nothing like this.

Also, if you are making them for the first time, try 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons cloves rather than the full Tablespoon. Not everyone likes that strong of a clove flavor.
Arleen C. December 13, 2015
Definitely going to try! I lived on pfeffernusse around the holidays as a kid. It was my dads favorite.
Chickenfog December 17, 2014
"1 tablespoon ground cloves (see editors' headnote)"

What headnote?
Sarah J. December 17, 2014
You might have to click on the "...more" to see it: "WHY WE LOVE IT: These cookies don’t rely on a long list of spices for that traditional pfeffernuse flavor -- instead, they lean heavily on ground cloves (we used 2 teaspoons, but go for 3 if you're more daring)."
Chickenfog December 17, 2014