My Grandma Krause passed away this past year, just a few days shy of her 89th birthday. I of course have a ton of memories of my grandma, but one of the best was when I called her up a few years ago and asked her how to make her famous “Pepper Nuts,” sort of her version of the German Christmas cookie, Pfeffernusse. She told me and I made them– the year before last and last year, too.
So, in her memory, I decided to make not one but two batches of these things to send to my immediate family, my aunt and uncle (thank goodness my father has just one sister), and their four children/my cousins. I was happy to do this– this year– but I probably won’t do it again. I have to say, I have a whole new respect for Grandma Krause. It was a heck of a lot of work for her to make all of these things for all of this family every Christmas season, and yet she did.
Anyway, I’ll make one batch a year from now on. Here’s my recipe, slightly refined from last year:
Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts (Pfeffernusse)
Every family has their “Christmas thing,” and this is pretty much mine. This recipe is different than the traditional version of the German Christmas cookie in two important ways. First, it gets its flavor not from ginger but anise oil. Second, my grandma always prepared these as tiny tiny cookies– really, more like “nuts” than anything else.
You can make this recipte without a standing mixer, but be warned that it will be a workout. Regardless, it’s a project. It’s not a particularly fussy recipe (if you can mix stuff together and make snakes out of clay, you’re set), but it is a time-consuming one.
1 cup dark karo syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup butter, softened (or margarine or crisco or, in the old days, lard)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp anise oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
7 cups (or so) flour
1.If you have a standing mixer mix together the syrup, molasses, butter, sugar and hot water until well combined. If you lack a standing mixer, you can do this with a large bowl and a hand mixer.
2. Add everything else but the flour and continue mixing until combined.
3. Start adding the flour, about a cup at a time, mixing each time until the flour is well incorporated. If you have a trusty KitchenAid standing mixer, lucky you! You can keep mixing this until all seven cups of flour are combined. I shift from the regular mixing paddle to the bread hook attachment after about the fifth cup of flour.
If you donâ€™t have a standing mixer (unlucky you!), youâ€™ll probably have to give up on the hand mixer after the fourth or fifth cup of flour and knead the rest of the flour in as you might with the making of bread or pizza dough.
Either way, you may have to add a little more or a little less flour to get a dough that is moist but not sticky.
4. Take about a handful of the finished dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface in long snakes that are about the width of your pinky. Lay these out on a cookie sheet. You can create different layers of the dough snakes by separating them with parchment paper or plastic sheeting.
5. Chill these dough snakes. Grandma Krauseâ€™s recipe said to chill â€œovernight or for at least a couple of hours,â€? but I stick the dough snakes in the freezer for about a half-hour or so and that turned out fine.
6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 or 375 degrees. Take each snake and cut them into tiny pieces. The smaller you cut them, the more crunchy the cookies will be. Grandma Krause used to cut hers about the size of pencil erasers. Put the little dough pieces onto a cookie sheet, being sure to spread them out so they donâ€™t touch either. The cookies will expand slightly in size.
7. Bake about 9 minutes or until golden brown. Cool them on a clean counter or a clean cookie sheet and store them in a sealed container.
This recipe makes what Grandma Krause used to call “a pail full.” Serve them in little bowls as is they were nuts.