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The Story of German Pfeffernüsse

"Baking, mailing, and eating Pfeffernüsse is a Miller Family Tradition," said Phyllis Miller Zabrocki, Traditions at Beaumont resident. "My father was Clarence Miller. My older sister is Lois Miller Haase, whose father was also Clarence Miller!"

Clarence Miller's father and mother were Mr. and Mrs. William (Alice) Miller. Lois and Phyllis' grandpa was born in Germany… thus, German Pfeffernüsse, a yummy little spiced cookie, was a family tradition.

"Alice Miller, my grandma, was the cutest little lady. My grandparents lived out in the country on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They were so poor that they gardened for all their food, cooked on a wood stove, had a pump outside for water and an outdoor bathroom down the path from their home," said Phyllis.

"Although Grandma Miller was poor monetarily, she had a servant's heart, a deep love for Jesus, and drew great strength from God. She bubbled with joy and had the sweetest smile and little laugh. Grandma would make Pfeffernüsse cookies with Grandpa Miller every Christmas for all their grandchildren. She also made the most amazing bread and doughnuts," recalled Phyllis.

Before leaving for church on Christmas Eve, Phyllis and Lois would leave a dish of Pfeffernüsse cookies and a glass of milk for Santa with a note that said, "Dear Santa, we have left a treat for you!"

"Upon arriving home, Santa had filled our red stockings with the same gifts each year – an orange, apple, peanuts in the shell, and a few pieces of wrapped Christmas candy. We were thrilled to be given all these gifts on Christmas Eve. Of course, the Pfeffernüsse cookies and milk were gone, with a thank you note in their place. We would read the Christmas Story from the Bible and then have a wonderful time opening our gifts from our parents," smiled Phyllis.

All of Phyllis' family lived in either Minnesota or Wisconsin. When she was at Methodist-Kahler Nursing School on her Pediatric Affiliation at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, her Grandma Miller would send her Christmas gifts in the mail.

"The only gift I ever received from them was a small oatmeal box filled with Pfeffernüsse. I was so excited to receive them! Those little spice cookies were so special to me, just like nuggets of gold. I would ration them out to my nursing student classmates. I would always hide a few extra cookies away just for me! Yum, yum, good," laughed Phyllis.

When Phyllis' sons, Jeff, Jon, and Josh, were growing up, they always baked their Pfeffernüsse on Reformation Day weekend (November 1), put them in tightly closed containers, and left them in the pantry, just like her Grandma Miller would do.

"They seemed to get more flavorful as they aged for a couple of months. We also followed the tradition of leaving a bowl of Pfeffernüsse, a glass of milk, and a note for Santa before we went to the Christmas Eve programs at church. We hope to continue this very special family tradition with our three sons and our grandchildren." smiled Phyllis.

Pfeffernüsse Recipe

By Phyllis Zabrocki from her paternal grandmother, Alice Miller


  • 2 cups Karo dark corn syrup
  • Bring the syrup to a boil, then immediately add 2 cups of white sugar and 1 ½ cup of canola oil, blend well
  • Add 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon soda (dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8-10 cups of flour, blending flour a couple of cups at a time

The last few cups of the flour may have to be kneaded in on a clean counter that is sprinkled with some flour, so the dough won’t stick. Keep working the dough until it is firm and moldable.

Divide into 2 parts and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to roll out into snakes or logs.

Cut into bite-size pieces and bake on a greased cookie pan at 350 degrees. Start cookies on the bottom shelf and halfway through rotate to the top shelf. Watch carefully as they burn very easily. They will cook very quickly. Use a metal spatula to scrape them off the pan to cool.

Wipe the pan with a paper towel so no crumbs remain, spray with Pam and refill pan and bake the next set of cookies.

Pfeffernüsse can be stored in an airtight container for 4 weeks. The flavor improves upon storage. They also may be frozen for up to 9 months.

Have fun and remember all our great family baking times together!


Grandma Zabrocki 😊