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GBH Provisions

GBH Provisions — Anise and Molasses Peppernuts with Hopewell’s Big Cold Brew Imperial

The bellwether of the holidays at my parents’ house is a particular set of Tupperware. Eleven months a year, it sits dormant. However, come December, it gets brought out, cleaned, and prepared for action. Like a reverse advent calendar, the containers fill up with cookies as the days count down and Christmas gets closer. The two largest vessels in the set are the last to be used, reserved for the most essential holiday baked good—peppernuts.


Peppernuts, or pfeffernüsse, are small cookies that are popular in parts of central and northern Europe. Because my town is home to descendants of immigrants from those regions, these cookies have become a staple in my Nebraska community. Gathering the family together to make peppernuts was a tradition throughout my childhood.


Growing up I learned two methods of making peppernuts. My great-grandmother rolled the dough into a long rope (think of an extended Tootsie Roll). She would then take a butter knife and cut it into inch-long segments before moving onto the next length of dough. Me, I’ve got a different technique. I take my hunk of dough and pinch pieces away from the smaller mass before rolling them into marble-sized morsels.


When I was young, the best part of making peppernuts was always the mess. Rolling out the cookies felt like making tiny mud pies, albeit with a lot more nutmeg. At a kid, I spent most of the time caked in cookie dough, and only realized later that making peppernuts is the perfect setting for conversation. The steady activity, the rolling of dozens of cookies, keeps you anchored to a chair. However, since it’s generally a pretty mindless, repetitive exercise, it’s easy to sit and actually talk to the people across the table.


I was home in early November this year, and since these cookies were on my mind, I asked Mom if we could fit in making peppernuts when I was back. A text chain was started in an attempt to negotiate everyone’s availability. Despite my nieces’ work schedules, college homework, high-school extracurriculars, and whatever shenanigans my 10-year-old nephews were up to, we found a time. As the cookie making got underway, I stood back and smiled as I watched the familiar ritual of gathering baking sheets, wetting wash rags (to take care of the cookie residue that accumulates on one’s hands), and setting out parchment paper and cutting boards. Seeing the youngest generation of my family make peppernuts was a new experience for me, but they knew what the were doing.


Not many members of my family (immediate or extended) left home. Maybe they settled a town or two over, or left to join the military or go to school before ultimately coming back to familial surroundings. I’m the odd duck. Even after being in Chicago for over 15 years, I still think of these lingering childhood traditions, which rattle in my mind as I dodge hidden sidewalk puddles and brave pitch-black afternoons. This year, I decided to bring friends together to share in the annual event. We just made one minor adjustment to tradition: more day drinking.


I have a friend who graciously agreed to host the inaugural Chicago-area party. Her apartment has better lighting and more holiday cheer. When she pressed me for details on the event, I tried to reassure her that it would be easy, that she would just need to prepare to make a whole lot of very little cookies. Because I lack the Tupperware that I grew up with, I arrived with aluminum hotel pans in tow: a little improvisation was necessary.


Tradition dictates that we must make two kinds of peppernuts. My mother’s grandmothers each had their own recipe. Both are generously spiced with varying amounts of ginger, nutmeg , allspice, cinnamon and cloves. The main difference is that one uses molasses and the other opts for anise oil. The anise peppernuts tend to be a bit crisper, while the molasses peppernuts remain a little more moist. Both recipes call for lard. I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where I can easily buy pork fat; I used Lisa Fain’s method to render the fat into lard.


Picking a beer to serve with peppernuts is tricky, and not only because of all the spices mentioned. To me, the pairing is less about the cookie, and more about the experience. It’s December, and, as expected, it was cold and dreary during our peppernut-making session: we needed a beer to warm up with. While I’m usually a low-ABV beer drinker, I would be lying if I said I didn’t dabble in imperial-strength beers to help put the “holly jolly” in my Christmas.

Because making peppernuts is a marathon and not a sprint, I thought an extra jolt of energy wouldn’t hurt. An Imperial Stout with coffee—like Hopewell Brewing Co’s Big Cold Brew—seemed like a good choice. Extra caffeine leads to more cookies, which lead to more beer, which adds to the holiday joy, which makes for one energizing and intoxicating cycle. It helps that Big Cold Brew is incredibly drinkable for an Imperial Stout. The coffee is a seamless addition, and melds perfectly with the beer’s luscious fudge and graham-cracker flavors.


Even amid new surroundings, the experience of making peppernuts with friends felt very familiar. It had the same recognizable elements: someone running to the oven every eight-to-10 minutes to switch out a pan of cookies; people sitting and rolling dough together; sharing hopes for the fresh New Year, disappointments in 2018, and excitement for what the holidays might bring. Once all the dough was rolled, and the cookies were baked, there were more than enough to go around. Which is a good thing, because they make perfect stocking stuffers, are a festive breakfast when served with milk, or can be nibbled in front of a fire as the holiday season finally reaches its conclusion.



Molasses Peppernuts

14 cups (1.68 kilos) all-purpose flour

1 pound (455 grams) white sugar

3 tablespoons ground aniseed (substitute Chinese five-spice powder)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon table salt

2 cups (250 grams) chopped walnuts

1 pint (475ml) dark corn syrup

1 cup (235ml) molasses

1 pound (455g) unsalted butter

½ pound (225g) shortening

½ pound (225g) lard

4 large eggs

3 teaspoons baking soda

  1. In a very large container, add the flour, sugar, spices, walnuts and salt, and whisk to combine.

  2. Add the dark corn syrup and molasses to a large saucepan and place over high heat. Once the mixture begins to boil, remove from the heat and add the butter, shortening, and lard. Stir to combine. Set aside and leave to cool slightly.

  3. Meanwhile, add the eggs to a large bowl and beat until uniform. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda with an equal amount of water (3 teaspoons) to dissolve.

  4. Add the warm syrup mixture to the eggs. Pour in a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly, to ensure the eggs temper instead of scramble. Add the baking soda mixture to the eggs, and whisk to combine.

  5. Add the egg and syrup mixture to the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine.

  6. Refrigerate for a minimum of several hours, and up to overnight. The dough should be very firm and dense. Do not be surprised of it takes an unexpected amount of effort to scoop smaller portions prior to rolling.

Anise Peppernuts

5 pounds (2.25 kilos) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon table salt

1 pound (455 grams) white sugar

2 pints (950ml) dark corn syrup

½ lb (225 grams) unsalted butter

½ lb (227 grams) lard

¾ cup (187 grams) sour cream

4 large eggs

½ oz (15ml) anise oil (Can be found on Amazon. To substitute, use 2 oz/60g ground aniseed)

3 teaspoons baking soda

  1. In a large bowl, add the flour, spices, and salt—whisk to combine.

  2. Add the sugar, dark corn syrup, butter, and lard to a large saucepan, and place over high heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Add the sour cream to the syrup mixture, and stir to combine.

  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until uniform. Add the syrup mixture in a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly, so the eggs temper and don’t scramble. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda with an equal amount of water (3 teaspoons) to dissolve. Add the anise oil and baking soda mixture to the egg mixture, and whisk to combine.

  4. Add the egg and syrup mixture to the dry ingredients in one addition, and stir thoroughly to combine.

  5. Refrigerate for a minimum of several hours, and up to overnight. The dough should be firm and dense. Do not be surprised if it takes an unexpected amount of effort to scoop smaller portions prior to rolling.

To Bake

  1. Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit (190° Celsius). Lightly grease several baking sheets.

  2. Remove the doughs from the fridge. Gently roll into balls the size and shape of marbles, and place on the greased baking sheet 1 to 2 inches apart (note: as the two peppernut varieties bake for different lengths of time, ensure they’re placed on separate baking sheets).

  3. Bake the anise peppernuts for 8 minutes and the molasses peppernuts for 10 minutes, or until cookies have puffed up and expanded. The final product’s shape will resemble a mushroom cap. Remove from the oven. Using a spatula, slide cookies off the sheet and leave cookies to cool on parchment paper or on a towel.

  4. Let the baking sheets cool for a few minutes before using for another batch of cookies.

  5. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container for up to 60 days.

Words + Photos, Mark Spence