Monday, December 7, 2009

December 8th-Pfeffernusse

As a child, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany many times. I spent time in Stuttgart and Erlangen where I remember the markets so clearly. German bakeries are filled with fresh breads and soft pretzels. At Christmas time cookies seemed to be the star of the show in the fragrant bakeries. The varieties of assorted cookies is overwhelmingly divine. I always loved a couple of Pfeffernusse cookies with afternoon tea. I was drawn in by the strong level of spice and molasses flavors. This is a great bee keeper recipe as it uses lots of honey. Prince charming and I have three bee hives and enjoy our time tending to them.

Makes 5 dozen

1/4 cup light molasses
1-1/4 cups honey
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter,
cut into pieces
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
Scant 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Scant 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch salt
1 egg, graded "large", beaten to mix
1/4 tsp. pure anise extract
Zest of one orange
Sifted or strained confectioners' sugar

In a heavy bottomed, nonreactive, 1 to 1-1/2 quart pot, combine molasses, honey, and butter. Place over low heat, stirring often until mixture is thin and butter has melted. Do not boil. Remove from heat; pour into large bowl. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. When honey mixture is lukewarm, beat in egg, anise extract, and orange; mix well. With large spoon, gradually stir in sifted dry ingredients. This will be a stiff, sticky dough. Chill until cold. Cover top of bowl with a paper towel, then cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil. Chill overnight.

Next day, adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper cut to fit.

Roll dough between your palms into 1-inch diameter, moist, shiny-looking balls. You will only bake 3 on the first sheet; this is important! It is difficult to judge the baking time of these cookies because of the dark color of the dough, so these will be "test" cookies. Bake 10-13 minutes, switching sheet back-to-front about halfway through baking time. While baking, these will spread slightly. When baked, the tops will have have lost their shiny look and will have almost a "spongy" appearance; they may have some small cracks, too. The cookies will still be very soft, but will harden considerably when cooled (especially around the edges). Let stand for a few seconds on baking sheet, then remove to cooling rack. Cool until just warm, then break one cookie in half (do not cut it). It should be baked through, but there may be a darker top layer inside--OK. The bottoms of the baked cookies should be lightly browned. I bake these for 11 minutes, but remember your timing may vary.

When you have established a baking time, continue forming and baking cookies, one sheet at a time. Space 2 inches apart. The dough will still be very sticky, and you'll have to rinse your hands with cold water after forming about every half dozen cookies or so (the dough will stick less if your palms are damp--not wet--before rolling). Cool cookies completely on racks. During the cooling process, lift each cookie from the rack, then replace it (these stick a bit, even to nonstick racks) to finish cooling.

When cookies are completely cool, roll each in sifted or strained confectioners' sugar to coat thoroughly. Store airtight, with wax paper between layers, and at room temperature. Allow to stand at least 24 hours before serving (a few days is better). If desired, roll cookies in confectioners' sugar to coat once more before serving.

Now I am thinking about tomorrow's cookie.


Belinda Darcey said...

What happens if you don't let the dough sit overnight? Why is this part important? I love all the other notes, by the way. Very helpful.

Chef Courtney Contos said...

Great question! One or two hours will do. You just need to firm it up a bit so that the dough is easier to work with.