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How sweet it is: the value of homemade goods

A Pfeffernusse cookie recipe for a merry Christmas

Christmas may not be my favourite holiday, but there is one element of it that even I can admit leaves other holidays in the dust: the food, especially the baked goods.

However, while stores may be overflowing with sweet treats of every kind, nothing can beat the taste of homemade baking.

With how busy and commercial this time of year is, taking time to slow down and create something becomes especially meaningful. 

Buying cookies might be fast and easy, but taking the time to gather and measure the ingredients, follow the steps of the recipe, and produce something tasty can be an almost meditative experience. After all, it’s hard to be stressed about final projects and exams while focused on measuring the exact amount of each ingredient. 

Holiday baking can also make a thoughtful gift for the special people in your life, especially if you make their favourite things. It might be a cliché, but food made with love really does taste better. 

I have fond memories of doing Christmas baking with my mother and sister. In my family, food is often used as an expression of love; if you leave the table hungry, it’s because you didn’t try. Food has an ability to bring people together in a way that few things can.

Getting in the kitchen and trying new recipes with friends and family can also be a fun experience, and doing a cookie exchange could be a good way to get a taste of different cultures and backgrounds.

For example, my favourite cookies for holiday baking are pfeffernusse, a German cookie which is akin to a gingersnap, albeit with a warmer, spicier flavour. 

Pfeffernusse means “pepper nuts,” which is fitting, since most recipes contain black or white pepper. I prefer black pepper, but recipes vary from region to region and family to family.

My mother is very fond of a saying: “cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” Changing the ratios or forgetting ingredients have a huge impact on how your baking turns out, so being present and mindful is important. Even then, factors like an unevenly-heating oven or the freshness of ingredients can impact the final product, so baking is also an exercise in acceptance. 

Things don’t always turn out the way we plan, but can still produce delicious results.

Pfeffernusse cookies

A tray of pfeffernusse cookies cooling on a rack in Calgary on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Some people ice their pfeffernusse with confectioner’s sugar, but I prefer to leave mine bare. Photo by Emilie Charette

Pfeffernusse cookies (source: epicurious.com)

Pfeffernusse are a tasty German Christmas cookie similar in flavour to gingerbread or gingersnaps. The name means “pepper nuts,” because they have a surprisingly savoury ingredient: black or white pepper.
Some people like to ice their pfeffernusse, but I prefer to leave mine bare and let the complexity of the flavours shine through without the extra sugar.

Prep Time: 45 mins

Total Time: 59 mins

Yield: 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon crushed anise seed

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup light molasses (unsulfured)

1 egg

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, for icing (optional)

PREPARATION

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, pepper, aniseeds, cinnamon, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. 

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat together the butter, brown sugar and molasses until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the egg. 

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in the flour mixture. 

Cover and refrigerate for several hours. 

Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets. 

Scoop up pieces of dough and roll into balls, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place the balls on the cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Pfeffernusse cookies

A try of pfeffernusse awaits the oven in Calgary on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Pfeffernusse are popular as Christmas cookies in Germany. Photo by Emilie Charette

Bake until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom and firm to the touch, about 14 minutes. 

Let the cookies cool slightly on the sheets before transferring them to cooling racks.

OPTIONAL: Place the confectioners’ sugar in a sturdy paper bag, drop a few cookies into the bag, close the top securely, and shake gently to coat the warm cookies with the sugar. Transfer to racks and let cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to one week.

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