In Germany 'Weihnachtszeit Plaetzchenzeit', Christmastime is Cookie Time. Throughout Advent and until Twelfth Night - the Eve of Epiphany, German kitchens are hives of activity.
With treasured family recipes handed down through the generations, delicious Christmas cookies are offered wherever one goes, and there is so much variety, even with the same type of cookie, that it is hard to choose which to have first, second, third....and often far more.
Luckily Weihnachts Plaetzen, also known as Weihnachtskekse, are so easy and quick to make it is possible to bake a supply of favorites to enjoy at home, as well as for Mitbringseln, little hostess gifts.
Here are traditional family recipes for two of the most popular, and most often seen, amongst the many German Christmas Cookies.
Zimtsterne - Cinnamon Stars with a 3 inch cutter this makes about 24 stars
If you are a fan of nuts, or know someone who is, then they are sure to love these cookies.
3 egg whites
250 gr confectioners sugar
1 pkt vanilla sugar
300 gr ground almonds
1 tsp cinnamon (more to taste)
Grated zest of one untreated lemon
1tsp Kirschwasser or rum or brandy (optional)
Whisk egg whites on low speed until frothy, add pinch salt and increase speed until soft peaks are formed, gradually add icing sugar, continually beating until glossy and stiff.
Divide meringue mixture in half.
Fold ground almonds, cinnamon, lemon zest and vanilla sugar into one half of meringue, add Kirschwasser, rum or brandy if using, and combine until dough is formed but is still just sticky.
Wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.
Sprinkle surface with icing sugar until well covered, cover dough with non stick paper and roll out over paper until about 1/4 inch thick, use star cookie cutter to cut plaetzchen shapes.
This dough is very sticky so during cutting process clear the cutter frequently to remove excess and dust with powder sugar, this will ensure you continue to cut complete star shapes.
Place stars on baking paper or rice paper prepared baking tray about 2 inches apart, and cover them completely with remaining egg white mixture, making sure it does not drip down the sides.
The cookies can be left overnight for the meringue mixtures to dry out naturally then baked on a low shelf at 135 for 15 to 20 minutes, or baked immediately on a low oven shelf for 30 to 40 minutes at 135 degrees C.
Remove from oven when base is golden and before meringue begins to turn brown, it pays to keep a close eye on them for the last minutes.
The finished cookie should still be soft not hard and the icing makes a creamy sweet layer on a chewy biscuit base.
Store in an airtight tin.
Vanillekipferl - Vanilla Crescents makes about 40
Many Vanillekipferl recipes contain egg but there is none in this one, and the dough is so delicious it quite often does not reach the baking stage.
250 gr plain flour
210 gr cold butter cut into small pieces and kept in cool place until used
100 gr ground almonds
80 gr Superfine Sugar
2 pkts Vanilla Sugar
For coating when baked: Powder sugar and Vanilla sugar
Sieve flour into large bowl, add cold butter pieces and stir briefly with metal knife to distribute, then add rest of ingredients apart from coating sugars.
Rinse hands in cold water, dry and quickly knead until sandy textured dough is formed.
Cover with cling film and leave in fridge for at two hours.
Cover baking tray with lightly greased baking paper, preheat oven to 165 to 170 degrees C.
Roll dough into finger thick rolls. Cut into one inch slices, roll each slice into roughly the thickness of a pencil and form into a crescent.
Place, well spaced, onto baking tray, put into middle of oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until just turning golden brown.
Meanwhile put half coating ingredients into large bowl or plate and combine, mix rest in separate bowl.
Remove vanilla crescents from oven, leave for three minutes, test that they are firm, sprinkle with coating sugar, making sure that they are covered.
After some minutes remove and place carefully in bowl or plate with coating mixture. This coats the underside of the cookie while giving a thicker sugar layer on the top surface. (This second coating is optional).
Leave until cold and remove.
The timing is a bit crucial, because if the cookies are still too hot then they will break easily, if they have become too cold then the sugar mixture will not stick, so it is best to test one before removing from the tray and adding to the sugar coating mix.
Keep in an airtight tin where they will last at least a month, and they taste better after being left for a week.
GutenAppetit!And enjoy your Weihnachts Plaetzchen
A 'Zimtstern', Cinnammon Star, Photographer Carport, Vaniellekipferl, Vanilla Crescent, Photographer Usien, courtesy de.Wikipedia
This has to be one of my favourite Weihnachten CD's with some really beautiful and atmospheric Christmas music to listen to while baking those cookies, or to simply enjoy. The voices are just superb and while this CD includes Silent Night and O Tannenbaum there many other melodies you will recognise, as well as the peals of church bells from churches and cathedrals across Germany
For topics in the news And you can follow German Culture on Facebook