If you were to ask twelve women, with a German/Mennonite background, for their recipe for peppernuts, you would get at least thirteen different variations. Peppernuts are as individual as families. A good peppernut is labor intensive, spicy, some include nuts and fruit, others are quite plain. Some are hard and crunchy, others soft and chewy. Some are large, others tiny. See!! Just like a family.
But the one constant in all of this is–anise! Anise can be purchased in oil, seed or powdered form (although the powdered form is the hardest to find). It is the delightful licorice flavor in the cookie. And this is the one thing that can, and is, adjusted to unique family taste.
If you’re unfamiliar with this delightful little cookie, chances are you will try the recipe once. Only the strong and dedicated make them a Christmas tradition!! Nearly thirty years ago I sold them…for $4.50 a pound even way back then. A friend now gets $9.00 a pound and she knows some are getting as much as $15-16 a pound. After you make them you will appreciate why some are willing to pay…and not play!!
1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup dark syrup
1 cup cream (I use heavy whipping cream)
1 teaspoon of the following: soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger.
1 tablespoon of the following: baking powder, powdered anise
Cream butter and sugar, add syrup, cream and spices (I stir my baking powder into the flour before adding)…then add flour.
The result will be a soft dough. Much like this:
At this stage you will want to chill the dough a bit to make it easier to handle. The next step is to roll the dough into ‘snakes”. If the dough is chilled enough you should be able to do this without adding a lot of flour to the rolling surface. I rarely need to use flour, but do often put the dough back into the fridge for a bit as the warmth of your hands will soften it to the point of being too sticky. You don’t need a lot of dough to make your ‘snake’
I roll the entire batch of dough at one time, fitting the rolls into a cake pan with wax paper separating the layers. I don’t like for the snakes to touch!! Because after I get them all rolled, I then stick the pan into the freezer. It makes the next step much easier if the snakes are frozen.
The freezing step doesn’t take as long as you might think. They don’t need to be rock hard–just set enough you can handle them without them sticking to your hands. Also, it will make a cleaner ‘slice’ when you do the next step. I remove the snakes, one at a time, from the freeze, and cut into slices. If you use the part of the knife closest to the handle, and not the tip, you will be able to cut the entire snake without the slices separating. Even though they might not cut clear through, it is easy to pick up the entire roll, even after being cut, and put them on your pans.
How you place them on the pan is also individual. I just put them wherever I can fit them, but you will want the flat side down. Others prefer to make nice clean rows. They bake just the same.
Baking time will depend on your oven. Temp is 350 and time is anywhere from 7-11 minutes. You will notice, in the next picture of the finished product, that some are darker. That’s because I always tend to forget from year to year and overbake the first pan. They aren’t burned, just a bit browner. You want to take them out while still a bit soft, and they will not be a golden brown, but because there are so many, and you just ‘dump’ them into a pile, they continue to ‘cook’ a bit.
The finished pile is the result of three pans, and it probably takes 3-4 rolls to fill a pan if you do it like I do. HINT: If you are doing these alone…..fill as many pans as you have before you start baking. Cutting and putting them on the pan takes time..however, it is a fun project to do with kids if you don’t mind them being a bit ‘smushed”. Mom do the cutting, though!!
This batch didn’t quite fill a one-quart ziploc bag. A one quart bag, filled tight, is pretty much one pound, though to sell them you’d want to be accurate.
Also–if you really get tired messing with these little cookies….the dough can be kept for a Looonnnnggg time if frozen and it will only enhance the flavor. And….even the little cookie itself never gets stale–I think it’s all the spices. But BEWARE—they can be as addicting as popcorn….or peanuts! A handful just calls for another handful.
Thus ends our week of recipe sharing. To each of you who faithfully ‘tune’ into us each week..Thank you and may your Christmas be as full of blessings as these little cookies are of spices. Next week we will be sharing a ‘Christmas Tradition”
God bless you, each and every one!!