Pfeffernüsse translates in English as “pepper nuts”, and they are one of the most traditional cookies made during the holidays in many countries in Northern Europe. It is a perfect cookie to offer as a gift, as they are best when consumed a few days after baking. The recipe is found in the cookbook “Classic German Baking“, but it is also available online (click here). I made half the amount of spice mix, and still had plenty leftover.

(as published in Tasting Table)

For the Lebkuchengewürz spice mix:
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1½ tablespoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mace
¾ teaspoon ground star anise

For the cookie dough:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup honey
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lebkuchengewürz
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
1 tablespoon rum, slightly warmed
1 egg

for glazing:
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
lemon juice added to desired consistency

Make the lebkuchengewürz: In a small bowl, whisk together the lebkuchengewürz spices until well combined. Makes about ½ cup. Store in an airtight container.

Make the pfeffernüsse: Heat the oven to 375° and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt to combine. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and granulated sugar over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the lebkuchengewürz and white pepper.

In a small bowl, dissolve the baker’s ammonia in the rum, then stir into the honey mixture. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and add the flour mixture and the egg. Stir until a smooth dough forms.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place ½ inch apart on the prepared sheet pan. Bake until the cookies have domed and dried, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice. If you want a thick glaze, add very little juice, if you want a transparent, thin glaze, add lemon juice and thin further with water. When the cookies come out of the oven, immediately brush them with the glaze. Let the cookies cool completely, then store in an airtight container for 2 days before serving.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I have a very warm spot in my heart for any sweets containing spices, Speculaas probably being at the very top. These cookies were a huge hit with my beloved husband and his golfing friends. You can approach the glaze in two different ways, thick as I made, or very very thin. Some say that the traditional type has super thin glaze, but I prefer the way they look with a thicker coating. Your kitchen, your rules, do whatever feels right for you. They pack a lot of flavor, and because they are so small, you don’t really feel guilty having one. Maybe two. I would advise you to stop before you inhale the fifth one. That might be harder than you anticipate…

ONE YEAR AGO: Clay Pot Pork and Tomatillo Braise

TWO YEARS AGO: Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Cinnamon Cookies

THREE YEARS AGO: Lemony Barley with Shrimp and Spinach

FOUR YEARS AGO:Black Rice with Roasted Cauliflower

La Couronne Bordelaise

SIX YEARS AGO: A Special Birthday Dinner

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Tuscan Grilled Chicken and Sausage Skewers

NINE YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with Pork Tenderloin & Apples

TEN YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

TWELVE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow


If you expect me to stick with the usual type of posts published by most food bloggers in January, I shall now disappoint you. I have a cookie post to share. And a great one. The recipe comes from Geoffrey Zakarian, which pretty much means it is going to be awesome. If there is one chef I’d like to sit down and chat with, is GZ. He seems like a nice person, and extremely knowledgeable about food. This is one of his favorite cookies, by the way, which shows we have at least a couple of things in common: a passion for spice cookies, and allowing our hair to go totally gray. HA!

Hermit Cookies

(from Geoffrey Zakarian)

Yield: about 18 cookies

for the cookies:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

 for the glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg whites
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, allspice and ginger in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and molasses together in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, eggs and orange zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until incorporated. Add the spiced flour mixture and beat until the dough just comes together. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into large balls (about 1.5 inches in diameter) and refrigerate on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper until firm, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake the cookies until the tops of the hermits are no longer glossy and the edges are firm, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the glaze: While the cookies cool, mix the confectioners’ sugar, egg whites and vanilla seeds in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth and shiny. Transfer the glaze to a piping bag or zip lock bag with a corner cut, and pipe stripes onto the cooled hermits. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


to print the recipe, click here


Comments:  Let me share what GZ has to say about these babies: “This is my favorite holiday cookie, because it blends two of my favorites: soft chocolate chip cookies and spicy gingerbread — the best of both worlds.”  I totally agree.

Did you know that Hermit cookies have been around since 1877? Amazing!  The name is a big mystery, actually.  They were also known as tea cakes, made traditionally as little squares. You can read all about them here. Hermit cookies are soft the way I like, spicy, sweet, and the glaze goes perfectly with them, although I am sure the glaze is a modern take on the original recipe. I normally like a plain cookie, but must admit the extra work for the glaze pays off in this recipe.

Hermit Cookies2

The holiday season is over, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with baking a batch of spice cookies when the mood strikes… You?


ONE YEAR AGO: Cremini Mushroom Meatloaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi & Tamimi’s Roast Chicken with Clementines

THREE YEARS AGO: Eight-Ball Zucchini: The Missing Files

FOUR YEARS AGO: Grilling Ribbons

FIVE YEARS AGO: Peppery Cashew Crunch

SIX YEARS AGO: Ossobuco Milanese: an Italian Classic


Criticizing is easy, it comes naturally to most of us, I guess.  I’ve done my share of criticizing The Food TV Network, going on and on about the good old times when their shows were actually about cooking, not endless competitions. One example: Cutthroat Kitchen.  I mean, here we have a guy like Alton Brown, who joined the network with the goal of showing home cooks the science behind food preparation, the tricks of developing a perfect recipe. Now, he hosts a show I find incredibly silly.  And I am not alone. Hummm, did I say I was done with criticism?  Sorry, I got carried away.  I am here to actually praise The Kitchen, a weekly show on FoodTV I enjoy quite a bit. One of the things I like is the sense of spontaneity behind it. Marcela Valladolid is charming, adorable, knowledgeable, and I am a huge fan of Geoffrey Zakarian. Jeff Mauro is witty, and seems like a very genuine person, the more I watch the show, the more I like him. They have features like Tool Takedown, interesting and fun. The whole idea is to test a gadget that is supposed to perform a specific task, say peel apples. One person will use it and another will grab a veggie peeler or a regular knife, and they compete to see who does it better and/or faster. For the most part, they demonstrate that single-use gadgets are a waste of money and storage space. I also love a feature called  “You Put What in your What?”. As the name indicates, it involves unusual additions to recipes, or crazy food combinations.  And that brings me to this post. I hope you’re ready for it.


I know, it scared me too! But, please, don’t run away screaming.  These cookies are delightful, the pictures do absolutely no justice to them.  I baked them early in the morning while the kitchen was still dark and had to take pictures under very unforgiving lights.  You’ll need to make the dough at least 4 hours before baking, the day before is even better, so plan accordingly.  I found the recipe at the The Spice House website. Of course, being the spice cookie lover that I am, and reading the rave reviews of those who made them, I could not wait to bake a batch.

Curry Cardamon Cookies

(adapted from The Spice House website)

Yields approximately 6 dozen cookies

(I made half the recipe and got 30 cookies)

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted, chopped

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to creamed mixture, a third at a time. Stir in nuts.

Divide dough into four rolls and wrap each in waxed paper. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (may also be frozen).

Slice into ¼-inch slices and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Let cookies cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet, then remove to a rack to cool thoroughly.


to print the recipe, click here

I often tell our students to read the protocol carefully before starting a new experiment. Sometimes it would be nice to listen to my own advice.  The bit of “refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours” caught me unprepared. It was 9 pm and my intention was to bake them before going to sleep. Instead, I had to stick the dough in the fridge and resort to plan B: turn the oven on at 5:30am next day…    Oh, well…

They puff quite a bit while baking and release a fantastic aroma that will fill  your home with joy and tail-wagging dogs.

Can you tell there is curry in them?  I doubt it. Actually Phil could, but I suspect he’s got a mass spectrometer in his nose, that man identify smells like nobody’s business. Our students thought they had ginger. I wish the pictures turned out better, but trust my words: these are GREAT cookies.  You know why I say that? I normally have one cookie of every batch I bake, no matter how tasty.  This was a FOUR COOKIE downfall.  I had four. One at home to make sure they were good enough to share, and the others during our lab meeting. They seem so harmless, but in my opinion they join all goodness a  cookie should have: sweetness that is not cloying, and a peppery, salty, addictive taste that mixed with the walnuts makes you go back for just one more. Maybe three.


This is another example of a cookie that will not win a beauty contest, I admit. But please, make them, share with friends, and dare them to guess the secret ingredient!

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, March 2014

TWO YEARS AGO: The Blogger and the Shrink

THREE YEARS AGO: The Wheat-Berry Transmogrification

FOUR YEARS AGO: Curried Zucchini Soup

FIVE YEARS AGO: Roasted Onion and Asiago Cheese Miche


It was many years ago that the airlines began to cut expenses by  throwing their bored passengers only a small bag of peanuts or pretzels to tame their hunger.  But, once on a Delta flight I got a different type of snack. Ripping open the package I found two small cookies inside, and told Phil:  “We don’t even deserve pretzels anymore, look at these tiny cookies”!   But, with the first bite I fell madly in love!  Delta, whenever possible, became my airline of choice, and I stepped inside the plane  with one goal in mind: charm the stewardess into giving me two packages. Maybe three…  😉

I kept my passion for these cookies a secret, thinking that professing love for airline cookies would be similar to admitting a weakness for Velveeta (don’t ask, I won’t tell).  But one day, I posed a discreet question in a cooking forum trying to find out more about them.  All clouds dissipated in the horizon: those are speculaas, very special cookies that originated in Europe centuries ago.  Many versions exist, sharing in common a mixture of spices, brown sugar, and butter.  Traditionally, they have beautiful, complex designs on the surface, requiring special molds to shape them.  I used ceramic molds (highlighted here)that were a bit more affordable than the real McCoy.  As to the recipe,  my friend Gary shared the method he learned in culinary school.   The teacher, chef  Gabriel, gave me permission to publish his very own recipe, so you can fall in love with these cookies right in your own kitchen, in the safety of firm ground!   Isn’t that awesome?

(Recipe courtesy of  Chef Jeffrey Gabriel
Schoolcraft College)

8 oz butter at room temperature
11 oz brown sugar
1 + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 + 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 egg yolks
2 Tbs milk
13 oz flour
2 oz almonds, finely chopped in a food processor.

Place the butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat on medium speed until creamy and smooth (about 3 minutes).  Add the spices, egg yolks, and milk.  Continue beating until it is all well blended.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the ground almonds, add them to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until a dough forms.  Chill the dough for at least one hour, preferably overnight (easier to work with next day).

If rolling the dough,  remove from the fridge and work on a floured, cool surface.  Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thick, cut in the shape you want, and bake.  If using a mold, pull small amounts of dough, press into the slightly floured mold, and delicately remove it, placing the cookie with the design up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake the cookies in a 350F oven until golden brown.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I will not lie to you.  Working with these molds requires patience. I can see that with a lot of practice, it could be a soothing, relaxing activity. Not much Zen was happening in our kitchen, though.  Gary recommended  this book  to speed the learning process, and I have it on my wish list at   All reviews are stellar.   But, if you don’t have a mold, don’t let it prevent you from making speculaas.  They may become your favorite type of cookie, perfect for this time of the year, when we all need the warmth of cinnamon, the nice heat of cloves and nutmeg, the sweetness of sugar and molasses.

Note added after publishing:  for a great take on speculas, jump here to see Celia’s version, that includes thinly sliced almonds. From what I’ve been reading, that type of recipe is common in Belgium.  Check it out!

ONE YEAR AGO: The Unbearable Lightness of Baking

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain a l’Ancienne

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