Pfeffernüsse from the Bakehouse

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

One of my favorite tastes of the holiday season

There are many things that folks look forward to this time of year at the Bakehouse. The super-tasty German Stollen, the wonderful Budapest-style Walnut Beigli, the incredibly popular Fancy Schmancy cookie classes, kits, and gift boxes. The Buche de Noel. My personal favorite though—packed in small colorful green and red Zingerman’s boxes (lovingly illustrated by Ian Nagy)—is easily missed if you stay on the “main road” of our best-known offerings: the Bakehouse version of the old German cookie known as Pfeffernüsse.

The literal meaning of the name is “pepper nuts,” and they do have a wonderful texture that reminds me of the soft crunch of eating good quality nuts. The idea of seasoning sweets with pepper might sound odd today in 2022, but in ancient times pepper and assorted other spices were as likely to be used with sweets as it was with savories. Spices imported from afar, at great expense, were a way to show honor for one’s guests and to demonstrate abundance. Nearly every traditional Christmas sweet in Europe is evidence of this tradition, such as the Sienese pan pepato—an ancient, pepper-spiked version of panforte (which we have on hand at the Candy Store and Deli). At the Bakehouse we use the Balinese long pepper in the much-loved Gingerbread Cake. And Pfeffernüsse are probably my favorite of this sweet peppery tradition. By using the fantastic 5-Star Pepper blend we get from our friends at Epices de Cru, the flavor goes far beyond what one can get by using only mainstream black pepper.

At the Bakehouse we support the black pepper with a bit of nutmeg, cloves, anise, Indonesian cinnamon, and some Muscovado sugar. A touch of sea salt brings the flavors out beautifully. The Pfeffernüsse have a lovely balance of sweet and spicy, a wonderful, palate-awakening complexity, and a really fine long finish. If you’re serving the Pfeffernüsse on a platter, I recommend a fresh bonus grinding of good black pepper over the top—it adds a nice little aroma and flavor. A box of Pfeffernüsse makes a fun stocking stuffer. A wonderful treat sandwiched with vanilla gelato. Terrific with the Holiday Blend or a shot of Espresso Blend #1.