WREN'S PFEFFERNUSSE

Growing up, I had very little exposure to Christmas cookies, or seasons for that matter. Our seasons were citrus, avocado, and mango; and the cookies from the bakeries we shopped in sold rugelach, hamentashin, and black and whites. So when I moved away from home for college, experiencing four distinct seasons was no less than incredible to me, as was discovering the array of Christmas cookies made available in the winter months. Because these cookies only show up during the winter season, I decided a number of years back that I needed to make it my mission to sample the cookies from our various bakeries here in Western NC to see who's doing what and whose I like best. What I discovered is that unlike trying eclairs from all the bakeries and choosing the winning eclair (yes, my daughter and I have done this), an eclair is fairly standard -- pate a choux, pastry cream...-- holiday cookies come in various shapes, sizes, and flavor profile; and even  the same variety -- a ginger cookie, for example-- can manifest in countless form-- soft or snap/ honey or molasses/ pronounced spice or pronounced sweet... Im drawn to the spice cookie variety because there are so many iterations. SO this year, instead of sampling cookies from the bakeries, I found myself considering these cookies and how these flavors of spice and sweet would marry well with our flours. I kept thinking Wren's Abruzzi-- our spicy Southern rye. SO I researched Pfeffernusse recipes and no surprise, found numerous interpretations. I arrived at recipe a from Chowhound, as I felt this was a good place to start--  the sweeter-- brown sugar and honey (no molasses in this take), I felt would complement well with our Wrens; as well as the other listed ingredients-- lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper...

I did the recipe twice-- once with 100% crema rye (this rye is sifted to 75%); and once with 50/50 Crema Rye and 75Pastry. I liked them both, but for different reasons-- though I feel to really do this right, I need to do one more with 100% 75Pastry, so all three can be compared (next bake). Texture wise--  these cookies are to be crisp around the edges and soft in the middle. Both the 100% rye and 50/50 achieved this, though the 50/50 had a more distinctive crisp to its edge and defined structure. Flavor wise -- the 50/50 carried the spices and zest perfectly; the 100% rye is a good cookie, but I would increase the spice, salt, and lemon zest on the next bake, as side by side with the 50/50, i felt the flavors were a bit overshadowed by the the richer flavor and structure delivered with 100% rye. The 50/50 brought a touch of delicate to this cookie, though the 100% brought more warmth. 

100% Wren's Abruzzi Crema Rye on left; 50/50 Crema Rye/75P on right

So here's the recipe of which I have tweaked a little from the original found at Chowhound

For the 50/50 cookies:

  • 1.5 cups Wren's Abruzzi Crema Rye 
  • 1.5 cups 75Pastry
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons packed finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 medium lemons)
  • 2 teaspoons packed finely grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup honey

For the 100% RYE cookies:

  • 3 cups Wren's Abruzzi Crema Rye
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons packed finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 medium lemons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons packed finely grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup honey

For the spiced sugar:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 t salt

To make the spiced sugar:

  1. Sift all ingredients together into a large bowl; set aside.

To make the cookies:

  1. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, salt, allspice, and pepper into a large bowl; set aside.
  2. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and process until finely ground, about 25 to 30 seconds. Add the almonds to the flour mixture and stir to combine; set aside.
  3. Place the butter, lemon zest, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fluffy and combined, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until incorporated and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds more. Add the honey and beat until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing until just combined. (Do not overmix.) Use a dough scraper to scoop dough out of mixing bowl onto a sheet of parchment. Wrap in parchment (I fold parchment around so cookie dough looks like a parcel package about 6"x7"x3"). Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 1 hour.
  5. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  6. Working quickly with this dough, as it is rye (or a good percentage) so it could have the tendency to stick if one manipulated it too much, roll out between parchment to flatten to about 1 1/2" , and with dough knife I cut about 1/2 pieces and roll quickly between my hands and place  1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, then rotate the sheets from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the cookies are very lightly browned around the edges, about 5 to 6 minutes more. (The tops will be soft, but they will firm up as the cookies stand.) Transfer the baking sheets to 2 wire racks and let the cookies sit until cool enough to handle but still warm, about 3 minutes.
  7. Drop the warm cookies into the spiced sugar, making sure to coat them all over, then shake off any excess sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Repeat baking and sugarcoating with the remaining dough. Store the cookies in an airtight container, layered between pieces of waxed paper, for up to 3 weeks.

Happy Baking!

from the ground up,

jennifer