Pepperut Program


Peppernuts—The Story Behind the Story, My Ladies Literary League program focused on a behind the scenes look at my story about peppernuts that appeared in the winter 2017 issue of KANSAS! Magazine. 
During the research phase I collected lots of tidbits and trivia that definitely added to my knowledge base and helped me in the story writing but could not included per se. Here are just a few of my favorites that I shared with the group: 
  • Peppernuts are considered Christmas treats! But, expand your thinking as even the early bakers often made them year round. Lighter varieties served with lemonade were a summer time treat!
  • Original European recipes varied by country of origin (Pimpernüsse or Pfeffernüsse - Germany / Pepernoten - Holland / Pebernødder - Denmark; also made in Latvia and the Ukraine) and by available ingredients.
  • Full of spices, it has been suggested they should be called spice nuts rather than peppernuts. So how did the name come about? One source suggested: Pepper —in earlier times the word pepper was a generic term for spices; the German word pfeffer means spice. Some older peppernut recipes even include small amounts of pepper while others contain peppermint. Nuts—most peppernuts are identified by their somewhat hard, nut-like texture and some actually contain finely chopped nuts. They are often eaten in quantity, the same way nuts are grabbed by the handful.     
  • Although small peppernuts seem to be valued the most, I found recipes that specified from ¼” or less to half dollar size. Molds for pressing dough into small, round disks were used in Germany at one time. 
Since I was also the hostess, I prepared a variety of peppernut recipes trying to  showcase  variations in ingredients, color, overall appearance, texture and taste. 

From the left: 
  1. Gumdrop Peppernuts — A chewy spicy variety made by the Wedels at The Main Street Café in Durham at Christmastime. This particular recipe is from Peppernuts Plain and Fancy by Norma Jost Voth.
  2. Clint’s Favorite Black Walnut Peppernuts — Diana Jost of Burdick, likes to mix up a batch of black walnut peppernuts. They were her husband Clint’s favorite and the recipe is included in “Peppernuts, Plain and Fancy.” Written in 1978 by Clint’s first cousin Norma Jost Voth, the cookbook also chronicles the role those little nuggets played in families and communities from Russia to Kansas.
  3. Jennifer’s Spicy & Nutty Peppernuts — This traditional  and "fancy" peppernut recipe is from Jennifer Kassaubaum, Burdick. It c contains a plethora of spices along with ground nuts and yields a light, crispy cookie.
  4. Molasses Peppernuts — Cindy Wedel, Abilene, provided this recipe that relies on molasses and brown sugar as the sweeting agent and a triage of basic spices: cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  These crisp, crunchy nuggets are the type of peppernuts she grew up eating in her hometown of Durham. 
  5. Danish Peppernut (Pebernødder )  — These Danish Christmas peppernuts start off as walnut-sized balls; they flatten out as they bake and then are sprinkled with powdered sugar.
  6. Voth’s Quick and Easy Peppernuts — This recipe from Norma Jost Voth, is just one of many that appears in several books she wrote about foods and folkways of the Russian Mennonites that immigrated to the U.S. and Canada. She was born and raised in Hillsboro and at age 94 is as excited about peppernuts as she was back when she was doing extensive research for her books. Although she has collected a wealth of peppernut recipes, this is one of her favorites. Not only is it quick and easy, the dough can be shaped and baked immediately, without chilling overnight. “It’s the one I made when I went on book tours,” she mentioned during a phone interview.
    A closer look at the treats -- above & below
Other items also intermingled on the dessert buffet include:
Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters
Part of the literary group.
      

Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters







Dark chocolate coated almonds— if you had to select a healthy candy, this is it. Now all we need is a glass of red wine!




Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters
     12 oz. bag dark chocolate chips
     2 1/2 cups roasted almonds, unsalted
     1 teaspoon vanilla
     Coarse salt for finishing if desired











  1. Place about 3/4 of the bag of chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler and heat over medium until chips begin to melt.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chips. 
  3. When chocolate is smooth, stir in almonds and vanilla.
  4. Using a teaspoon, drop small mound of clusters onto wax paper and allow to harden at room temperature.
Note: To avoid chocolate "bloom" (when the cocoa butter comes to the surface of the chocolate creating white streaks, do no store in air-tight container or make too far in advance.

Recipe without photos . . .
Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters
12 oz. bag dark chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups roasted almonds, unsalted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Coarse salt for finishing if desired
  1. Place about 3/4 of the bag of chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler and heat over medium until chips begin to melt.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chips. 
  3. When chocolate is smooth, stir in almonds and vanilla.
  4. Using a teaspoon, drop small mound of clusters onto wax paper and allow to harden at room temperature.
  5. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt if desired.
Note: To avoid chocolate "bloom" (when the cocoa butter comes to the surface of the chocolate creating white streaks, do no store in air-tight container or make too far in advance.

King Arthur Iced Holiday Butter Cookies

 This recipe comes from the bakers at King Arthur Flour. Buttery and tender with a professional looking glazed icing. These cookies also hold their shape after baking! On their site, they offer these tips to help sugar cookies hold their shape:

  • Be sure you're using King Arthur Flour brand all-purpose flour as it has a higher protein content than most other brands. This will help the cookies hold their shape.
  • Be sure to chill the dough after rolling out for 30 minutes before cutting your shapes.
  • Don't put cutout shapes onto a hot pan.
I always chill the dough and never put cookies on a hot pan. However, I’ve never used King Arthur Flour to make cookies. They are right – the higher protein content did indeed maintain the shape of the cookie. In the past, my snowflakes have puffed up and lost their shape but not so with this batch. I vow to use King Arthur Flour for sugar cookie making!

King Arthur Iced Holiday Butter Cookies   Yield: about 5 dozen 2" cookies.
Cookies
1 1/4 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or flavor of your choice (I used vanilla)
Icing
2 1/4 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons, or up to 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon milk; enough to make a pourable/spreadable icing, or leave it thicker to pipe
Food coloring, optional
1 cup coarse (such as sanding) sugar or colored sugar for decorating, optional
  1. To make the cookies: Combine the sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and flavor, beating until smooth.
  2. Add the flour, mixing until smooth.The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn't, dribble in a tablespoon of water.
  3. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flattened disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.
  4. When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feels soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn't feel rock-hard.
  5. Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, and flour your rolling pin.
  6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8" to 3/16" thick.
  7. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes.
  8. Re-roll and cut the dough scraps.
  9. Place the cookies on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be close together; they'll barely spread.
  10. Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they're set and barely browned around the edges.
  11. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you've used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the cookies cool.
  12. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies. When cookies are completely cool, ice and decorate.
  13. Icing: Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup to make a soft, spreadable icing, adding more milk if necessary. Tint the icing with food color as desired
     I used a food processor to mix the icing.
  14. Spread icing on the cookies, using a knife, a spoon, or your finger to spread it all the way to the edges. Or, pipe on thicker version of the icing. I actually piped around the edge of the holly and then filled in the center with spreadable frosting.


  15. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other sugar decorations, as desired. Allow the icing to harden before storing the cookies.
    Iced sugar cookies were a part of our dessert bar at a holiday party.
Recipe without photos . . .
King Arthur Iced Holiday Butter Cookies   Yield: about 5 dozen 2" cookies.
Cookies 
1 1/4 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or flavor of your choice (I used vanilla)
Icing
2 1/4 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons, or up to 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon milk; enough to make a pourable/spreadable icing, or leave it thicker to pipe
Food coloring, optional
1 cup coarse (such as sanding) sugar or colored sugar for decorating, optional
  1. To make the cookies: Combine the sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and flavor, beating until smooth.
  2. Add the flour, mixing until smooth.The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn't, dribble in a tablespoon of water.
  3. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flattened disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.
  4. When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feels soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn't feel rock-hard.
  5. Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, and flour your rolling pin.
  6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8" to 3/16" thick.
  7. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes.
  8. Re-roll and cut the dough scraps.
  9. Place the cookies on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be close together; they'll barely spread.
  10. Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they're set and barely browned around the edges.
  11. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you've used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the cookies cool.
  12. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies. When cookies are completely cool, ice and decorate.
  13. Icing: Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup to make a soft, spreadable icing, adding more milk if necessary. Tint the icing with food color as desired.
  14. Spread icing on the cookies, using a knife, a spoon, or your finger to spread it all the way to the edges. Or, pipe on thicker version of the icing. I actually piped around the edge of the holly and then filled in the center with spreadable frosting.
  15. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other sugar decorations, as desired. Allow the icing to harden before storing the cookies.

Jeweled & Festive: Gumdrop Peppernuts

Notice the "jewels" in these peppernuts.
In my story about Peppernuts in the 2017 winter edition of KANSAS! magazine, I mentioned the Main Street Café in downtown Durham . . .


Commercial peppernuts are also produced in several other locations across the state. Main Street Café in downtown Durham offers peppernuts reminiscent of those baked by the Mennonites that settled the area. However, according to owner Wendell Wedel, they now use an automated process to create their little cookies that range in size from one-half to 1 ½ inches. Anise and cloves flavor the basic dough with spiced gum drops added to some batches. Dough is made in an 80-quart commercial mixer, 50 to 75 pounds at a time. It’s then transferred to a large machine that automatically extracts tiny pellet-like shapes, approximately 10 at a time, onto large baking sheets. During their peak season, Christmastime, they make two to three batches per day but peppernuts are offered year round at the café.

Have to say that I'm not a fan of gumdrops but I did try this recipe and have to say that they add another dimension of flavor. Plus the gumdrops create a "jeweled" effect in the baked cookies. I am definitely a fan of these festive confections. This particular recipe is from Norma Jost Voth’s  Peppernuts Plain and Fancy.book  

(Mothers) Gumdrop Peppernuts
¾ lb. spiced gumdrops, diced
¾ cup shortening
3 cups sugar (1 ½ cups granulated & 1 ½ cups brown sugar)
3 eggs
½ cup milk or cream
1 cup finely chopped nuts - I used walnuts
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt

1.  Cut gumdrops into small pieces with scissors dipped in flour, omitting black gumdrops from package. Cut onto plate and dust with flour to keep pieces from sticking together. (We sprinkled them with floor and chopped with a chef’s knife. After finely chopping, we put them in a mesh strainer and shook off excess flour.) Set aside

2.  Cream shortening and sugar.

3.  Add eggs, one at a time, followed by milk, gumdrops and nuts.

4.  Add sifted flour and remaining dry ingredients. If necessary, add a little extra flour until dough cling together.
5.  Chill overnight or longer.
6.  Roll into ½” ropes and cut into ½” pieces.


7.  Bake on greased pan at 375° for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Ready to go in oven. 
Above - Baked peppernuts as they came out of oven.
Below: Baked peppernuts cooling on a rack.


Recipe without photos . . .
(Mothers) Gumdrop Peppernuts
¾ lb. spiced gumdrops, diced 
¾ cup shortening
3 cups sugar (1 ½ cups granulated & 1 ½ cups brown sugar)
3 eggs
½ cup milk or cream
1 cup finely chopped nuts - I used walnuts
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt

1.  Cut gumdrops into small pieces with scissors dipped in flour, omitting black gumdrops from package. Cut onto plate and dust with flour to keep pieces from sticking together. (We sprinkled them with floor and chopped with a chef’s knife. After finely chopping, we put them in a mesh strainer and shook off excess flour.) Set aside.
2.  Cream shortening and sugar. 
3.  Add eggs, one at a time, followed by milk, gumdrops and nuts. 
4.  Add sifted flour and remaining dry ingredients. If necessary, add a little extra flour until dough cling together. 
5.  Chill overnight or longer.
6.  Roll into ½” ropes and cut into ½” pieces.
7.  Bake on greased pan at 375° for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.