So now that I am in the habit of revealing my secrets to you, I will tell you another one. I believe in Santa. Ever since I was a little girl I have baked special cookies for him. I also leave carrots for the Reindeer, but that is another story. I am not kidding. You may all think I have gone crazy, but really, the magic of this time of year has always been with me. It is a time when many people return to a more childlike way of being – snuggling into warm blankets, eating special treats, and enjoying quiet entertainment and time with family and friends.
I have always loved spice cookies. They are not overly sweet, and usually made up of nuts as well as flour. This year I have really gotten into making shortbread. A good friend of mine shared his recipe with me, when he brought buckwheat shortbread to our housewarming party.
Using that recipe as a base, I decided to spice it up by using almond meal and adding traditional Pfeffernusse spices to it. Pfeffernusse means “pepper nut” in German and refers to the fact that most recipes contain ground pepper. Pfeffernusse is in the Lebkuchen or Gingerbread family of cookies, which dates back to the 12th Century. Gingerbread is based on Teutonic honeycakes. There are also versions of these pepper nut cookies in Scandinavia and The Netherlands.
I spent the evening of the Winter Solstice staying up to see the Lunar Eclipse baking these cookies.
These cookies are a traditional cookie for this time of year. German lore tells us that Santa Claus places these cookies in the shoes of all good children during the feast of Sinterklaas which has its roots in various pagan customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Sinterklaas.
So you can just say that I am returning the favor.
8 oz almond meal*
4 oz gluten free oat flour
4 oz date sugar (or just 4 oz dried dates pulverized)
1 TBS Pfeffernusse Spice Blend: freshly ground: ¼ tsp each: tellicherry peppercorns and cardamom, 1 star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger
8 oz butter (use the absolute best quality you can find. I use Vermont Butter & Cheese)
*to make your own almond meal, soak almonds in water overnight and then grind in food processor
Using a food processor, grind almonds, or use almond meal. Pulse in oat flour, dates (or date sugar) and Pfeffernusse spice blend until well blended. Then pulse in the butter, broken up into chunks. Pulse until the ingredients come together to form a batter.
Option 1. To make the stars, refrigerate dough for about an hour so butter hardens and is easier to handle. After an hour take dough out and press it out until about an inch thick. Then cut out into shapes and place on a cookie sheet to bake.
Option 2. Immediately roll dough into little balls using your hands and bake.
In a 375 F oven bake for about 20 – 30 minutes or until edges are browned.
Traditionally Pfeffernusse are rolled in powdered sugar. If you wish to do this you can make your own by placing maple sugar or evaporated cane juice into a grinder and grinding until powdered. See A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa for a tutorial (and another great cookie recipe).