Pfeffernüsse and gingerbread are very similar biscuits. Both are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and honey/syrup, flavoured with warm spices and often use the same technique to make the dough. The difference, as you may have guessed from the name, is the primary flavour. Whilst pure gingerbread uses only ground ginger, pfeffernüsse use a full quintet of spices. This selection of warming spices gives the pfeffernüsse a most incredible depth of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else in baking.
As you may have guessed from the name, the predominant flavour of pfeffernüsse is black pepper. Unlike chilli peppers, the spicy flavour that comes from peppercorns is caused by piperine (not capsaicin). This is why the ‘burn’ caused by eating peppery food feels different. Where capsaicin is aggressive, painful and can be felt through the entire digestive tract, piperine is far milder. A measure of piperine has only 1% of the ‘burn’ that would be experienced with an equal weight of capsaicin and causes a less aggressive, more warming, reaction. Black pepper is the spiciest of all the peppers and comes from the unripe fruit of the plant; green pepper is also unripe but picked at a different stage in the growing process; white pepper is created from the ripened berries of the plant; and pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant altogether. Pink peppercorns are actually from the same family as cashews and can cause allergic reactions in people with a nut allergy!
The lack of much leavening agent in pfeffernüsse results in a harder texture than standard biscuits (although not nearly as hard as amaretti or biscotti). The butter and syrup soften in the oven and the small amount of bicarbonate of soda expands causing the pfeffernüsse to spread a little, resulting in their domed hemispherical appearance. Before they can spread too much the flour cooks, setting the biscuits in their final shape. The cracks on the surface occur as the outside sets but the inside is still flowing, causing the cooked outside of the biscuit to split open. These cracks are never anything to be worried about. With a sprinkle of icing sugar, they can look artistic or with a thick glaze, they are completely covered up. I often find that if I make my glaze too thin, it can sink into the crevasses of the biscuit so do not be afraid if a second coat is required to get a fully smooth, shiny appearance.
I first came across these in Germany but you don’t need to wait to visit to enjoy these delicious treats. They are easy to make and addictive to eat so have a go and let me know what you think.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Glaze time: 15 minutes
125g butter (or block margarine – try to avoid the “spreadable” tubs)
270g plain flour
60ml golden syrup
1 egg (or 3 tbsp aquafaba)
150g light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground pepper (the fresher, the better – I use a mortar and pestle to pulverize a mixture or black and pink peppercorns for this but fresh black pepper works fine by itself)
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp grated nutmeg (like the pepper, fresher nutmeg works better)
450g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.5 (175°C).
Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment.
Gently stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and spices.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in the golden syrup.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.
With the mixer beating slowly, add the flour and spices and mix until just combined.
Once the mixture has come together, take a heaped teaspoon and roll it into a tight ball between your palms.
Place the balls about 3cm apart on the baking trays.
Bake for around 15 minutes until the pfeffernüsse are golden, firm(ish) to the touch and have begun to crack on top.
Leave to cool.
To glaze the biscuits, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and make a well in the middle.
Add 60ml of milk and slowly mix together to create a smooth, thick icing. If not all of the icing sugar will mix in, slowly add extra milk until everything has combined.
Dunk the top of each biscuit into the icing leaving the base clean. Place the biscuits onto a wire rack to allow the excess icing to drip off.
If you want, you can sprinkle some coarsely ground pink peppercorns over the top to give the biscuits some colour but they look just as beautiful without.
These keep for a good week or so and actually taste better the day after they are made once the flavours have been allowed to mature!
If you like spiced biscuits, you should definitely check out my gingerbread recipe or if you are looking for a dessert that will suit your Veganuary needs, why not check out my vegan apple pie?
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a hearty winter dinner.