Monday, January 12, 2015

Pfeffernusse as a Celebratory Food!

Every Christmas holiday season I like to make spicy German cookies, like gingerbread and pfeffernusse. Along with many other favorite cookies, these especially seem to hearken the yuletide.

Well, I've been under the weather this Christmastide so our annual gingerbread cookies were not made. Instead my son made some Pfefferneusse with the recipe I gave to him. Don't they look delicious?


While doing my research on the history of pfefferneusse, I was surprised to learn of their historic connection to gingerbread! The earliest documentation of gingerbread, or lebkuchen, is 1395's Germany. It is thought that they originated in monasteries. By the end of the Middle Ages, Nuremberg, Germany became a major crossroads to international trade through which delights like candied fruits, honey, spices and hazelnuts passed. A guild eventually formed, infamous in part for their many varieties of gingerbread, one of  which was pfeffernusse! As a result, Nuremberg became the gingerbread capital of the world! (More of this history is here.)

This link contains a great story of the author who experienced the spicy gingerbread capital of Nuremberg first hand! It also includes a recipe.

Many articles that I read said that pfeffernusse means pepper nut. That does not mean that pepper was traditionally used in the recipe, though it is sometimes added today. Instead the flavor came from other spices, like cinnamon, allspice and cloves, that created a peppery flavor.

This article makes an interesting historical note that in the 18th century, pepper might be in the name if not in the receipt (recipe). The example the article gave was the gingerbread that Martha Washington made, which included ginger. However pepper was not part of her receipt. The author at this link also includes symbolism of cloves, variations in receipts with nearly unheard of ingredients today like hartson (ammonium carbonate), along with a recipe of her own! 

Yet another articles is at this WWII blog where the American author recounts her German and Danish heritage, which includes the Danish history of the pfefferneusse! She tells the story that her family made these cookies in WWII, despite shortages...and German ill-well at the time. She also includes a recipe from 1944.

This article from the Austin American Statesman sums everything up with a letter from Ms. Hahn...a request for a pfeffernusse recipe made the old fashioned way, Grandma's way, with potash (potassium carbonate) and ammonium carbonate! A public call for recipes was made and a plethora of them arrived from around the world! The author tells how she even baked one of the many recipes with Ms. Hahn, while she heard her family's story. After WWI her granparents and mother immigrated from East Prussia to America. In 1944 her mother married a soldier, Jerry Hahn, whom received care packages from home while he fought in Europe under General Patton. The care packages contained pfeffernusse. At the bottom of this link is a combination of recipes that are as close to the post WWI recipe as Ms. Hahn could recall, which includes pottasche (potassium carbonate) and hirschhornsalz (ammonium carbonate). Sources for these ingredients are also included.

When I made my first pfeffernusse a few years ago, it was unpleasantly hard as a rock. I was the only one eating them in the family, happily dunking them in a cup of milk. Oh the spicyness against the cold milk was a delight! However I wanted my family to like them too, so I tried a few other recipes, finally settling on this one, which is much softer, at first. They still harden but my husband always uses the trick of putting in a slice of bread with the cookie to help them keep soft, except that doesn't last too long with these cookies. Nevertheless I am noticing I am no longer the only one in the family eating them, nor am I the only one dunking them. I have heard, "Want milk?" as they dig for the cookies! Interestingly as I read all these articles on pfeffernusse, I learned that traditionally, these cookies are meant to be quite hard...and to be dunked in a beverage! Some articles recommended tea! Ms. Hahn related in her story of her father "slowly chewing on those rich, flavorful cookies from home made the nights pass a little quicker." 

My recipe from Southern Living  calls for powdered sugar to roll the cookies in, however this is not a traditional ingredient. In fact, it's not in Ms. Hahn's recipe at all, because it had not been available to her family when they lived in East Prussia. 

I seem to recall that I made this version of pfeffernusse from Chow last Christmas (2013) because the spiced sugar to roll a cookie in is something I definitely made last winter, and I think it was for this cookie. Anyway I am interested in trying it next year!

In all my pfeffernusse searching, I stumbled upon this quilt pattern too and I couldn't resist!


The Challenge:
Celebratory Foods-It’s the end of the year, a time for celebration! Pick a celebratory food (either inspired by the season or not, it’s your call). Make it up and share it with loved ones!

The Recipe: 

The Date/Year and Region:
The post WWI recipe is based on one from East Prussia.
The 1944 is from America.

How Did You Make It: 

Time to Complete:
A couple of hours.

Total Cost:
Under $5

How Successful Was It?:  

How Accurate Is It?:

No comments:

Post a Comment