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).
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.