How to make Carl Sandburg’s favorite Christmas cookie

Goat tidings
Celebrate Christmas the Connemara way. Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois and NPS

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg and his goat-loving wife, Paula, celebrated Christmas in curious ways. 

Rather than deck their three-story farmhouse with lavish trimmings, the couple decorated with a few sprigs of holly and a scraggly white pine. Under the tree, Carl and Paula tucked everything from soap statuettes to napkin holders fabricated from marrow bones. There was just one rule when it came to gift-giving: Nothing store-bought.

“There was a de-emphasis on the dollar,” the Sandburgs’ granddaughter, Paula Steichen Polega, shared with the Times-News in the 1990s. “The idea was you did everything yourself.”

That included making sugary treats. Rather than run to the nearest grocery store, the Sandburgs whipped up pfeffernüsse — small holiday cookies made with brown sugar, almonds, and lots of festive spices. 

In honor of Christmas at Connemara, a three-week holiday celebration happening at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (1800 Little River Rd., Flat Rock) on December 2, 9, and 16 from 10am-1pm, we pulled the Sandburgs’ favorite pfeffernüsse recipe from the archives.  

This recipe culls inspiration from Virginia Pasley’s 1949 cookbook. Photo courtesy of NPS


Adapted from “The Christmas Cookie Book” by Virginia Pasley (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1949)


  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons black coffee
  • 6 cups pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon 
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed cardamom 
  • 1 cup ground almonds

For the glaze:

  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons hot water


  1. Beat eggs until thick, adding sugar slowly. Add lemon zest and coffee. Stir until well combined. 
  2. In another bowl, combine pastry flour and other dry ingredients. Sift.
  3. Next, slowly combine the dry ingredients with the wet. Once well combined, add the ground almonds and stir. 
  4. Chill the mixture for two hours, then roll the dough into a log about an inch in diameter. Next, slice off half-inch pieces and set on a buttered cookie sheet. Allow to stand overnight in the fridge. 
  5. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely. 
  6. To make the glaze, dissolve powdered sugar in hot water. Dip each cookie in the glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and place on a wire rack positioned over a cookie sheet. Let the cookies sit until the glaze has hardened. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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