Black pepper is a fragrant, robust, and even hot spice that many of us rely on to bring flavor to our savory dishes. But what benefits does it bring to a dessert like ginger cookies? In his newsletter, food writer Nik Sharma explains that the spice’s heat and aroma “hold up really nicely to sweetness,” and gingerbread cookies are definitely sweet, typically calling for molasses, brown sugar, or both. Additionally, Sharma writes, the spiciness of black pepper complements the heat of the three forms of ginger in his cookies, helping to tie them together into one cohesive flavor.
Food & Wine’s gingerbread cookies also call for black pepper alongside ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. As with any recipe calling for black pepper, if you’re going to bake with the spice, make sure the pepper is fresh in order to get the widest spectrum of flavors from it. Sharma notes in his newsletter that black pepper owes much of its bold flavor to a chemical called piperine, which loses its pungency over time and which also degrades with exposure to light and heat. So for the best, spiciest gingerbread cookies, store whole peppercorns in a cool, dark spot in your kitchen — and grind them fresh at the time of baking.