According to my father, Pfeffernüsse are Santa’s favorite cookies. As children, we took this statement to be truth, without question. Even now, though I’m grown, and have long understood that Santa exists more in spirit than in flesh, I still believe that Pfeffernüsse are Santa’s favorite cookie.
Christmas was always a magical time for me. I held on to my belief in Santa for longer than most children and cried tears of true grief when I discovered the truth. And though I felt briefly, but truly, heartbroken the year I found out about Santa, I am thankful to my parents for the magic they added to the holiday. As a parent, I am conscious about instilling an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas in my children. But, as much as I want them to understand the theological significance of the day, I yearn for them to feel the same swell of excitement I felt as a child on Christmas morning.
My first Christmas, post-Santa, was just as special, but for entirely different reasons. As the oldest of my siblings, I became the first to learn of and share in the traditions which made our Christmas so special. I giggled as my dad climbed up to the attic with jingle bells in hand, to stomp around in Santa fashion. I held my breath as I tiptoed upstairs with my mom to help gather the wrapped gifts from Santa. I enjoyed sips of my dad’s Christmas Eve eggnog. And best of all, once my siblings were sound asleep, I was allowed to sneak downstairs to help my parents decorate the tree.
The tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve was my most favorite tradition of all. Weeks before Christmas, my family would select our tree. The tree would then wait outside until Christmas Eve, at which point, my father would set the tree in the stand and string it with lights. That was it. My siblings and I would go to bed, convinced we heard Santa on the rooftop, just as we drifted off with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. In the morning, we’d awake to a brilliant, fully-decorated tree, in a living room magically filled with gifts. By all appearances, Santa had come during the night, winked his eyes, and transformed our living room into a Christmas vision. There was nothing like that moment, peering down the stairs to see the tree, fully adorned, for the very first time on Christmas morning.
As much as the memories of that tradition fill me with joy, I’ve been reluctant to begin it with my own family. I just don’t have the self-control necessary to wait until Christmas Eve to put up our tree. My compromise with this issue has been to set up a small undecorated tree on our kitchen table, near our plate of Santa’s cookies, for Santa to decorate each year. And though I suspect that pfeffernüsse was more of my father’s favorite cookie than Santa’s, you can bet there will be some pfeffernüsse on that plate for Santa.
This was my first time making pfeffernüsse, which are a peppery German cookie, so I turned to a reliable source for cookie recipes; Martha Stewart. I made her recipe as written and it was fantastic. No alterations required. The dough comes together easily and the flavors are exactly as I remember. I’m certain that my dad (my childhood Santa) will enjoy tasting these delicious cookies.
Santa’s Favorite Pfeffernüsse
Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pfeffernussen
- 2 1/4 cups Flour
- 3/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1 stick Butter, softened
- 3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Molasses
- 1 Egg
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the flour, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, and molasses until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat for another minute or two until well-blended. Gradually blend in the flour mixture until a smooth dough forms. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll balls, about 1″ in diameter. Place the balls on the lined baking sheet, about an inch or so apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden and slightly cracked. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Place the confectioner’s sugar in a container. In small batches, gently toss the cooled cookies in the sugar. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Makes 2-3 Dozen