Peppernuts are a Christmas tradition in our family. These tiny, little cookies came to our area with the Mennonite immigration in the 1870's. Imagine generations of people grabbing a handful or two of peppernuts and munching away and you have a tradition worth continuing.
The main thing to remember about peppernuts is that they are tiny, about a third to a half inch, no larger. But then the variations begin. There are many different recipes out there. Some are crispy. Some are soft. I choose soft. Some are flavored with spices. Many have the distinct anise flavor. Anise is a flavor that you either love or don't. I fall into the "don't" category so I don't use it. My mother occasionally used a recipe that she got at Grace Children's Home that actually included black pepper. They were light colored, almost white, with flecks of black pepper. Good, but a little crunchy for my taste. Some recipes include ground raisins and coconut in them. I use the raisins, but not the coconut. Coconut has to be a fairly recent addition. It's had to imagine that our forefathers on the Ukrainian plains had access to coconut. So, among all the recipes, I have chosen a soft cookie with ground raisins for our family tradition. You may want to try them, too.
Making peppernuts can be a lengthy, time consuming process and a bit tedious. Traditionally the dough is rolled by hand into "snakes" and then sliced into cookies. This is where tradition and I take a different path. I have my own method using plastic wrap and a pizza cutter that I'll share with you latter in this post.
|Not pictured is the vanilla and the milk.|
A trip to Aldi grocery store provided most of the ingredients for the peppernuts. Aldi is where you shop if you want get the very best prices and don't mind standing in line for awhile. This fits right in with the Mennonites who tend to be frugal folk in search of the best deal. I'm not sure if that's an inherited trait. Could be. Anyway, why would you spend more money when these ingredients are perfectly fine? (Do I hear my mother speaking?)
Here's how I make peppernuts:
for a printable recipe click here
for a printable recipe click here
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups raisins
I did this in my mini food processor in two batches. When ground, raisins tend to lump into a sticky mass.
Add to creamed ingredients.
Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk:
6 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup finely chopped nuts
This is a lot of flour and a very stiff dough. You may need to stir in the last bit of flour and nuts by hand. Don't overload your mixer!
Here's what I do next:
Divide dough into thirds. Place one portion of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. I am using a rimmed cookie sheet with the rolling pin handles resting on the rims which keeps the dough at an even thickness. Repeat with the other two portions. Place in the freezer until firm.
Scatter on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 degree oven for 7-9 minutes.
Repeat with remaining dough. Sometimes I bake the cookies over a period of a few days. The dough is fine in the freezer until you are ready.
Now grab a handful. Peppernuts are meant to be enjoyed by the handful. And the taste? Well, I think you're tasting a wonderful tradition.
From our home to yours come our wishes for a warm and wonderful Christmas. Joy to the world!!
Recipe adapted from Buhler Centennial Cookbook, contributed by Marieanna Siemens