Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, anise, cloves, ginger, salt and pepper into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine.
Beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add half of the flour mixture and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add 3 tablespoons water and the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, pat into a disk, wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Dust the dough with confectioners' sugar, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper and roll out until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes using 2-to-3-inch cookie cutters. Transfer the cutouts to 2 ungreased baking sheets and press sliced almonds decoratively on top. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Transfer the cookies to the oven and reduce the temperature to 275 degrees F; bake, switching the position of the pans halfway through, until crisp and golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.