One of the best parts of getting married for me was marrying into a family rich with it’s own traditions. The Morford clan is known for its epic board game collection, its hereditary ping pong skills, biscuits and sausage gravy, and….peppernuts. Pepperwhats? The first time I went home with my husband for Christmas almost 8 years ago, I was introduced to the oddest cookie I’d ever seen. It looks like a dog biscuit, and yet it’s perhaps one of the most addictive treats I’ve ever known. They are tiny and crunchy and can be eaten by the handful. The Morford men are known to receive pillow cases full of peppernuts at the holidays, although in my time I’ve only seen them in huge tupperwares and jars. They are a staple at Christmastime.
Few things make my husband happier than sitting down at night in front of a football game or Netflix cuddled up with his bourbon and his jar of peppernuts. And since few things make me happier than my husband, I’m intent on filling his peppernut jar annually. From the beginning of my relationship with my husband, it was clear that I would take on the tradition of baking them annually, and I hope I will be able to carry forth that tradition and pass it on to my kids.
After years of apprenticing my mother-in-law in the kitchen, I have taken on baking these myself for the past two years, and two years ago it dawned on me that the rolling of the dough is quite similar to playdough. This gave me the idea to host a peppernuts party for toddlers who could easily roll the dough in balls, snakes, and cut it with plastic knives into the thumb-sized nobbins. Last year, I hosted 20 toddlers for the first annual Peppernuts Playdate, and this year I’ll host at least half a dozen.
Another tradition I have picked up from my in-laws is service to others, especially this time of year — so each year, I dedicate my peppernuts party to someone. Last year it was military kids, and this year, its to the Peninsula Food Bank. Baking and donating go so well together.
So, if you’re looking for an easy, addictive cookie that lasts for weeks (months, really), and can be made by toddlers and non-bakers alike, I urge you to add the peppernut to your holiday baking repertoire.
The recipe I inherited is somewhat vague, so I’ve included it here with some of my notes on how to make the baking process go smoother.
Peppernuts (taken from the German pfeffernusse)
This recipe, made in full, will use the better part of a 5 lb bag of flour (which you won’t even find listed on the original recipe card). You can feel free to half the recipe, and it halves quite easily. The “half batch” will make enough to fill two large tupperware containers, or 6-8 tins.
3 cups sugar
3 cups shortening (Crisco)
2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup cream (I use whipping cream)
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
I recommend a stand mixer for this recipe, or a very large bowl and a hand mixer. Regardless of what you use, you will need to make this in two “batches.” In the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in your large bowl, add half of the sugar (1.5 cups), Crisco (1 cup), and corn syrup (1 cup). Add one egg. Add 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder. Once incorporated, using a full 5 lb. bag of flour, start adding small amounts of flour. Keep adding until the dough is the consistency of playdough – if you are using a stand mixer, it will start to lock up- don’t let it burn out the motor, but when it starts to lock up, that is enough flour. If you want to measure, there are about 17 cups of flour in a 5 lb bag- so you will need somewhere between 8-9 cups. Scrape out the dough completely, but don’t clean the paddle or the bowl. Put the dough in a large tupperware container or bowl.
Repeat the entire process with the other half of the ingredients until the bag of flour is gone.
Prepare a sheet pan with parchment or silpat.
Taking about 1 cup of dough at a time, roll into a ball and then into two “snakes”. Using your thumbnail as a guide, and a knife, cut thumbnail sized chunks of dough and place them on a sheet pan. They won’t puff up much so you can put a lot of them on the pan and quite close together. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. They are done when they are slightly brown on the bottom. Cool slightly (2-3 min) and then you can use your hand to knock all of the cookies off and onto a baking rack (they aren’t delicate).
Enjoy – they wont last long which is why we try to make 10,000 of them at once!