Grandma Kradel always had a nice selection of homemade Christmas Cookies for the Christmas Eve table. She would spend weeks baking cookies for the family. She would make classics like Chocolate Chip, Pizzelles, Thumbprints, Peanut Butter Kisses, Date Bars – my favorite! – and cookies that she called Pfeffernüsse, also a family favorite.
Sometimes we called the butter cookies with nuts covered in confectioner’s sugar Snowballs, but Grandma K. called them Pfeffernüsse. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and taking German, that it took two seconds to translate Pfeffernüsse into the two words pepper and nuts.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that Grandma K. was actually making Russian Tea Cake, or Mexican Wedding Cookies, instead of Pfeffernüsse. Pictured above is a sample of real Pfeffernüsse. It’s like a dense gingerbread formed into a ball and then covered in powdered sugar. But there are as many recipes for this cookie as there are bakers in their kitchens, using varied spice combinations, so it is quite possible that Grandma’s recipe went through some changes through the years and ended up being more similar to Russian Tea Cakes instead.
Even Wikipedia says that:
German Pfeffernüsse are often confused with Russian tea cakes because they are a similar shape and are both generally covered in powdered sugar, but they are different internally.