german christmas cookies

The German tradition of the Christmas cookie - Vanillekipferl, Zimtsterne and Spitzbuben

Germany has a long tradition of baking cookies at Christmas time. For many Germans, the aroma of making these special cookies as a kid is one of their best Christmas memories. Rolling out the dough and cutting out Christmas shapes is still a popular activity, particularly with children. Around the time of the Winter solstice, the Teutons are thought to have produced and eaten an early form of gingerbread made of honey and flour - to provide energy in the colder months and pacify the evil spirits. This pagan custom was kept up after the introduction of Christianity and continued primarily in the monastic tradition of baking gingerbread. The baking of cookies at home started in the 18th century with the increase in coffee, tea, and cocoa consumption. In the higher echelons of society, it was considered good form to serve small biscuits with coffee. It was not until the mid-19th century that poorer households could afford making their own; this became associated with the old German custom of baking Honigkuchen when the nights started to draw in. Traditional German Christmas cookies include Vanillekipferl (crescent-shaped shortbread cookies with nuts and vanilla), Zimtsterne (star-shaped biscuits with cinnamon and nuts, pictured above), and Spitzbuben (shortbread cookie baked with jam). 

ZIMTSTERNE

3 egg whites - Pinch of salt - 250 g (9 oz) powdered sugar - 1½ tablespoons cinnamon - ½ tablespoon kirschwasser or lemon juice - 350 g (12 oz) ground almond meal

Beat egg whites and salt in a bowl until stiff (consistency of whipped cream). Add powdered/confectioner’s sugar, stir until ingredients are combined. Put some aside for the white frosting. Add cinnamon, kirschwasser (or lemon juice) and almonds to the rest and knead to a soft dough. Roll out dough on a flat surface (it may be slightly covered with sugar or flour so it won’t stick), approximately 1 cm thick. Use cookie cutter to make stars and put them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Let them rest for 5-6 hours or overnight in a dry place at room temp. Carefully paint the cookies with the frosting and bake for 3-5 minutes in the center of the pre-heated oven at 250 °C (480 °F). Let cool completely before serving.

Bethmännchen are delicious German cookies made from marzipan, featuring almonds, powdered sugar, sometimes rosewater, flour, and egg. They’re one of Germany’s traditional Christmas cookies, particularly popular around the Frankfurt area in Hessen, Central Germany, where they are also a Weihnachtsmarkt specialty. The Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the oldest in Germany, dating back to the year 1393. It’s a simple recipe: 

About 3 oz almonds, skinless, halved - 8 oz marzipan, coarsely grated - 1/2 cup icing sugar (powdered sugar) - 1/4 cup flour - 1 egg - 1 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Separate the egg. Mix icing sugar and flour together. Add egg white and marzipan. Mix with a dough hook in mixer until you have a smooth dough, or knead with your hands. Roll dough into balls the size of walnuts. You may need to add 1-2 tbsp flour extra so the dough won’t stick. Place cookies onto cookie sheet. Mix egg yolk and milk together. Brush mix on cookies. Press 3 almond halves into each cookie with the tips pointing upward. Bake for 15-20 mins or until pale golden. Place on a cookie rack until cold. Makes about 35 cookies.

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Vanillekipferl aus Rikes Weihnachtsbäckerei - German Christmas cookies with real vanilla and almonds

Für Vanillekipferl benötigt ihr Mürbeteig. Rike verwendet außerdem gemahlene Mandeln, dadurch bekommen die Vanillekipferl einen ganz leichten Marzipangeschmack. 

250 g Mehl - 1 Messerspitze Backpulver - 125 g Zucker - 1   Vanilleschote, das Mark davon - 2 Eigelb - 200 g kalte Butter - 125 g Mandeln, gemahlen - 50 g Puderzucker - 4 Pck. Vanillezucker - Mehl für die Arbeitsfläche

Das Mehl mit dem Backpulver in einer Rührschüssel vermischen. Zucker, Mark einer Vanilleschote, Eigelbe, Butter und Mandeln zufügen, und alles mit dem Mixer (Knethaken) gut durcharbeiten. Den Teig anschließend auf einer leicht bemehlten Arbeitsfläche zu einem glatten Teig verkneten. Aus dem Teig bleistiftdicke Rollen formen und auf einem großen Teller für ca. 30 Minuten in den Kühlschrank geben. Die Rollen in 5 cm lange Stücke schneiden, die Enden etwas dünner rollen und zu Hörnchen geformt auf das mit Backpapier ausgelegte Blech legen. Im vorgeheizten Backofen bei 180°C Ober-/Unterhitze ca. 10 Min backen. Den Puderzucker mit dem Vanillezucker mischen und die heißen Kipferl sofort nach dem Backen damit etwas bestreuen. Die Kipferl erkalten lassen und im Rest des Vanillezuckers wenden. 

Bahlsen Contessa - in my opinion, the tastiest commercial and readily-available Lebkuchen brand. Bahlsen gets exported worldwide so look for it in specialty shops or German import stores. Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas treat, resembling gingerbread. It was invented by monks in Franken (Franconia) in the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm, and 1395 in Nürnberg, the latter being the most famous for its Nürnberger Lebkuchen today. Local history relates that emperor Friedrich III held a Reichstag in 1487 and invited the children of the city to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen bearing his portrait. Due to differences in ingredients, Lebkuchen is also known as Honigkuchen (honey cake) or Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake). They range in flavor from more spicy to sweet and come in different shapes. Ingredients include honey, spices such as aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice, and nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit. The dough is usually placed on a thin, edible wafer called Oblate to keep the dough from sticking. Typically, they’re soft inside and glazed or covered with dark chocolate, but some are left uncoated.