Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse

Back-breaking labor. Farm wives and daughters know this in the kitchen, as well as in the out-buildings and fields. Most of the time, that hard work is for the survival of the family farm. But then, holidays happen every year, and with each of those comes a particular variety of hard work for the womenfolks -- particularly satisfying variety of hard work, at that.

One of the favorite results of great physical efforts is this Christmas cookie. It's not particularly an aesthetically pleasing treat, the way, say, gingerbread men and frosted sugar cookies can be. Pfeffernusse, an old German dunking cookie, was one of Mom's favorites, as made by her mother's mother. "Little rocks," Mom labeled them, and they truly did require either dunking in coffee or special steel-rebar-reinforced dental work in order to bite into them.

This recipe has all the flavor, but a little less of the jawbreaker quality, mostly, Mom says, by cutting back on the flour just a little. She also says that, as she's been making these little blighters today, it's just a little easier to stir the large batch of dough, this way.

Personally, I think the dough tasty no matter how dense it gets. But if you are a little more risk-averse than I am, I'd suggest that, if you want to eat dough, you should invest in pasteurized eggs or egg-substitute stuff before you stuff your face with this gooey holiday joy.

Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse

1 qt dark Karo brand syrup
1 lb granulated sugar (approx. 2 cups)
1 lb butter
2 Tbs baking soda dissolved in boiling water or coffee(just enough liquefy the soda -- about 2 Tbs or so
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp allspice
grated rind one lemon
1 1/2 or 2 cups finely chopped pecans
5 lbs all-purpose flour (approx. 20 cups)*

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a very large mixing bowl, cream syrup, granulated sugar, and butter.
Add baking soda solution, eggs, allspice.
Add in flour, a cup or two at a time. Unless you have a heavy-duty industrial-strength mixer, you will need to stir in the last two or three cups gradually, by hand, with a strong spoon.
Form into balls using a 1-inch scoop or a teaspoon, and drop onto cookie sheet.
Bake 10-11 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Cool on a rack, serve with coffee or hot cider.

*You can prepare them for a lighter-density cookie, and Mom often does this for the sake of her "poor aging frame" (it's been aging like this for about... well, forty years, I'd guess). For the tender generations who can't wield a war hammer, use only 16 cups flour.

Her Grandma Heitmann used to roll out some of the dough and cut shapes -- mostly reindeer -- for the kids on the farm. Those got sprinkled with a trace of extra sugar before they were baked.

These are not the usual kiddie cookies to be slathered with icing and candy decorations. Yes, most kids will like them, but they're aimed for adult tastes.

My own memories are of Mom once -- and only once -- rolling the dense balls of dough in sugar before baking them into glittery, yummy hockey pucks... it was a case of gilding fine gold. And then, there was the year that she used this dough to make a "gingerbread" house with a fondant-style frosting as cement. It took some doing to Hänsel-and-Gretel it to death.

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