04 December, 2011

Rustic Cookies, and other winter traditions

I'm getting ready for Christmas.  For me the winter season always has a touch of the rustic traditions handed down from our European family.  I'm thinking about wood stoves, home baking, little oranges, and decorating a tree...

Ilse was my dad's mother.  She was a spectacular cook and her recipes for German Christmas cookies (Springerle, Zimstern, PfeffernüsseBraun Lebkuchen, Haselnussemakronen, and Kisses) as well as Austrian Stollen (bread) have been carefully recreated every year in my dad's kitchen.  I'm not a tireless baker but I do love making a few of her cookies.  I will making Stollen this month too...

Brought into the fold of my cousin's Toronto kitchen last week, I was her sous-chef as we plowed through a couple recipes from Ilse.  Alison had already made the Zimstern and Springerle in an earlier session (the lead up time for baking these cookies is a bit staggering, but it means you can stockpile them for guests and boxing week!).  We made Lebkuchen and Pfeffernusse and Stollen. 

Pfeffernusse ('Pepper Nuts') are not just another cookie coated in sugar.  With six different spices in them, plus nuts and lemon peel, they pack a lot of personality. I think adding pepper to a cookie is a radical idea and I'm never disappointed by these pillowy gems.


3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp gr. cloves
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp gr. ginger (or 1 tsp fresh grated ginger) 

1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup candied lemon peel, minced
1/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 drops anise oil (1/2 tsp anise extract or 1/2 tsp ground
anise seeds 

Mix eggs and sugar to dissolve the sugar completely. Add the almonds and lemon peel and anise oil or extract (if using).

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, salt, soda and the ground spices. Add to Eggs/sugar and mix well.
Wrap and chill dough for at least one hour.

Roll out to 1/4” thick, cut 1” circles with cookie cutter. Then roll each circle into 1” diameter balls. Place balls on buttered cookie sheet, with ample space around each one. Bake 15 minutes in a 375C oven. Remove to rack to cool.

Put confectioner’s sugar in a bag, add Pfeffernusse, and shake till well coated (Alternate:  Eat as is). Store in an airtight tin or in a zippered plastic bag. A 1/4 apple wrapped loosely in foil (to keep separate from the cookies) will help in softening these 'pepper nuts'.