Peppernuts

Four quarts of joy. So, not even a whole batch.

(I sent this email to the Omaha World-Herald for their yearly “12 Days of Cookies” article.  Excerpts of my letter were published alongside the recipe on 12/14/2009)

Hello,

Here’s a recipe for the 12 Days of Cookies article you folks are doing.  It wasn’t hard to pick, really: of all the cookies I’ve ever encountered, these particular peppernuts were the only ones my brother dubbed “crunchy little nuggets of joy.”

If I were to hold a bowl of peppernuts out to you, perhaps you would look upon the small, roundish cookies and think, as untold thousands have before, “Hmm, that kinda looks like dog kibble, actually.”  And perhaps you’d wave them off, in favor of flashier, fancier, more photogenic cookies with chocolate bits in them and bright colors frosted all over them.  But you would be missing out on the most wonderful cookie ever consumed by mankind.  For these unassuming little “nuts” may not look like the Better Homes & Garden version of cookies, arranged artfully on a plate, but cookies artfully arranged on a plate are eaten one by one, and after a few you might get tired of them.  They get too sweet, or too rich, or just plain boring, because they’re just like every other Christmas cookie you’ve ever had.

Not peppernuts.  There’s a reason they’re served in a bowl.  You find that out if you eat one.  Because one becomes a few, and a few becomes handfuls, and handfuls become the need for a bowl of your own, and pretty soon I’m hiding them from my roommates because I promised to bring them to work again, where my coworkers will finish off an entire batch – which is five quarts – in a day.

You know a cookie is good when a batch is measured by volume.

They’re just that addicting. Converts to the cult of peppernuts will leap on them the minute they’re available.  My friends pester me when Christmas comes around to make and bring them.  When my grandmother made them (it’s her recipe), she’d make three batches: half a batch for each of her four children, and a whole one for her and Grandpa.  The secret, as far as I can tell, is that peppernuts are small, not too sweet, slightly spicy, crunchy, and about the size of a popped popcorn kernel, and are therefore perfect for snacking.  The recipe itself is straightforward, if labor-intensive, but since peppernuts keep pretty much forever, you can make tons of them ahead of time and store them in Tupperware for weeks.  If they don’t get eaten first.

Peppernuts:

1. Cream together:
1 1/2 c white sugar
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1 c butter

2. Add to above and cream together:
1 c whipping cream
1 c corn syrup (dark or light is fine)
2 eggs slightly beaten

3. Add to above and cream together:
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground star anise
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
8 c flour (I usually do this two cups at a time.  By the time you get to the last three or four cups of flour, you will need to mix the dough by hand.  It has been known to break electric mixers.)

4. The dough should be stiff and sticky.  Chill it several hours or overnight to make it easier to work with.
5. On a floured surface, roll balls of dough into snakes, about 1/2 inch in diameter, and cut into pieces about 1/4 inch wide.
6. Arrange the peppernuts on an ungreased cookie sheet (some people layer the sheet with parchment paper) and bake at 300F for 25-30 minutes, or until they start to go brown at the edges.
7. Let cool.  They’ll keep forever in an airtight container.

I hope you enjoy these as much as my friends and family (and coworkers and neighbors and random acquaintances) have.

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