By Helen Russell
Baking is an essential component of the Christmas festivities in Denmark, and when it comes to the holidays, there’s one cookie that no Dane could do without—Pebernødder, “peppernuts,” are a holiday staple and the oldest Christmas confection in Denmark, originating in the 1500s.
The small hard spiced cookies got their name from a Danish verb meaning “to season” that literally translates as “to pepper,” and the fact that, pre-baking soda, most cookies came out of the oven rock-hard, like nuts.
Today’s pebernødder are crunchier and mildly spiced, with hints of cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. They’re the perfect accompaniment to morning coffee or afternoon tea, and can be found in little bowls in every home, office, and on shop counters come December, or wrapped in decorative paper cones for hanging on Christmas trees.
Although store-bought pebernødder are widely available in Denmark, it’s more fun—and more hygge—to bake these tiny bites of deliciousness at home.
Mia Irene Kristensen, who teaches Danish cooking in Copenhagen and London, adds, “Pebernødder also taste so much better when you make them yourself. They take some time to roll out, but they’re worth it.”
Get Holiday Hygge in the Kitchen
Here is Kristensen’s recipe for classic pebernødder “with an optional modern twist for fans of licorice or orange flavors.”
Yield: approximately 150 small cookies
100 g (1 stick/8 tbsp) butter, at room temperature
100 g (½ cup) brown sugar
1 medium-sized egg
250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp baking soda
A pinch of salt
⅛ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp licorice powder or grated zest of ¼ of an orange (optional)
1. Mix butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and light
2. Add the egg and whisk until incorporated
3. In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients, then add gradually to the butter mixture until you have an even-textured dough
4. Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest for an hour in the fridge
5. Heat the oven to 200C/390F
6. Divide the dough in two and roll into thin sausage shapes. Cut into small pieces (about the size of a hazelnut) and roll into little balls
7. Place the balls on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool before serving.
Recipes and photos by Mia Irene Kristensen