Cooking School: Classic Zimtsterne - Cinnamon Stars
The countdown to Christmas, here in Germany, starts with the beginning of Advent. Soeren especially loves this time of year. For him the magic of Christmas chimes in on the first of December with the opening of the first door on his Advent’s calendar.
A few years back I stitched small green and red felt bags and decorated them with snowmen, reindeers, elves and the numbers 1 -24 – the days till Christmas Eve! Since then Tom and I find extreme pleasure sneaking about on the last evening of November filling those bags with goodies and small toys, then hanging them up around the living room. Often Tom gets the even days and I will take up the odd days – each one adding a surprise for the other partner. Our Advent calendar has become very dear to us.
The beginning of Advent also means Christmas markets, where every city sets up booths and stalls selling everything from decorations, crib figures, gingerbread, food and warm Glühwein – typical German spiced mulled wine. The city is filled with Christmas carols and aromas of roasted almonds and spiced gingerbread. After work we will often meet our friends at the Christmas market for a comforting glass of Glühwein while the kids ride on Santa’s sleighs or listen to Christmas stories.
I particularly love the baking during Christmas. It’s become a habit to give little homemade sweet treats to friends and colleagues as gifts. Cookies, pralines, jams, or mini cakes all spice up the kitchen. We then prepare decorative bags filled with these treats and write our best wishes on cards for our dearest friends. This is something very important to me. Giving a gift made by me – it’s personal and means I like you enough to take the time to make this for you! Every year I also make my traditional fruitcake. I know how some disdain over fruitcake in the US, but this one is special. Moist and packed with nuts and dried fruit, this cake improves as it get older!
In Germany we get to open our presents before the rest of the World does! Christmas Eve is the big day. On the 24th December we bring our tree in (not before) and spend the afternoon decorating it. In the early evening we gather together with our friends and walk to church to watch the nativity play. On the way home we are excited – “Has Santa already been there?” I can feel Soeren’s anticipation as he wants to race back home. Yes- Santa (read this as Tom) has visited us and placed boxes of beautifully wrapped presents under the tree. Soeren can hardly wait to rip the paper off and see if all his wishes he had asked for on his wish list have come true. We cajole him a little and persuade him to open the presents after dinner.
Dinner is usually duck. I love the texture and flavor of duck breasts and often prepare this on Christmas Eve. Apple glazed duck breast with a side of vegetables and potatoes was enjoyed by my family last year. Tender and succulent to the very last bite.
As soon as dinner is concludes it’s time to get to the business of exchanging and opening presents. A close to perfect day! On the following two days we continue to indulge in lots of food and visit friends and other family members bringing baskets of wishes and edible surprises.
Zimtsterne or cinnamon stars are classic German Christmas cookies. Light and crisp, they have a fabulous balance of nuts and cinnamon. In Germany they are typically enjoyed during the Advent time and each housewife or baker has his or her own favorite recipe. They are typically made without flour, just a egg white-almond meal mixture, however you are sure to find recipes using flour.
Fifteen years ago, when I first arrived in Germany, my very first Christmas here was truly a magical scene. For a girl who had spent most of her life in the dry dessert landscapes of Qatar, where at that time Christmas was celebrated behind close doors as it was not an Islamic holiday, the glitter and tinsel of a German Christmas was breathtaking.
I clearly remember spending most of my free time with my nose pasted to the windows of the plethora of bakeries taking in the beauty of cookies, cakes and pralines and bathing in the fragrance of sweet spices.
Zimtsterne were my bit of heaven. Everyday I would buy a small bag full of these fresh chewy cinnamony cookies and once back home put on the kettle for a steaming cup of tea. Then I would enjoy a few minutes of pleasure, dunking the cinnamon stars into the hot brewed tea.
I was not much of a baker back then, but as my interest for baking grew one of the first things I did try were zimtsterne. My first try - and they tasted rather horrid!
I did not give up though and each Christmas I would try to perfect the recipe for my zimtsterne. Fifteen years later, I think I have it! Ha! The past few years the zimtsterne have been pretty good. Thanks to the guidance Tom's grandmother! She will be 88 in February - bless her - and she still bakes, cooks, cleans, irons and pretty much is as fit and a tennis shoe!
This year the zimtsterne were exceptionally good and so I would like to share them with you this Holiday season.
To each one of you - I wish you warm, cozy, joyous and happy Holidays. Hope you enjoy this wonderful time with your family and friends.
This concludes my cookie countdown to Christmas - with crumbly ginger shortbread and delicious marzipan almond kipferl and these sensational cinnamon stars I am sure you'll be enjoying each bite. Hope you enjoyed the peak in some of my favorite cookies.
Keep in Mind!
- Monthly Mingle theme this month World of Spice Cookies
- Deadline January 5
- Bake delicious cookies sweet or savory highlighted by a spice
- One lucky winner will win the cookbook a Field Guide to Cookies
- Come on over and join us. Details here.
Recipe Traditional German Zimtsterne
Printable version of recipe here.
Makes 45 cookies
3 egg whites
250g powdered/confectioner's sugar
400g almond meal
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Line a cookie tray with baking paper.
In a clean bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, then add the powdered sugar, a teaspoon at a time, while beating all the time. Reserve approx 80g of the egg white mixture for the icing.
Add 300g almond meal to the rest of the egg white mixture and gently fold in. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the mixture and incorporate well.
Depending on the size of your egg, you might have to add some more almond meal to the mixture. The egg white-almond dough is supposed to be firm enough and have the consistency of rolled dough.
Sprinkle the remaining almond meal over the countertop. Using lightly floured hands spread the dough flat. Place a sheet of baking paper over the dough and roll out the dough approx. 1 cm thick.
Using a star form cookie cutter, cut out stars in the dough. To avoid the dough sticking to the form run the cookie cutter under cold water and then shake off any excess water.
Transfer the cinnamon stars to the cookies tray using a metal spatula. Frost each cookie with the remaining egg white-sugar mixture. Leave the cookies to dry out overnight.
When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 160 degrees C and bake for approx. 8 minutes. Keep an eye on the frosting as it should not begin to brown.
Store in an air-tight cookie tin -cool and dry.
Zimsterne are a traditional part of German Christmas and Advent offerings to guests and these make the perfect gifts for friends and family. I just adore these soft chewy cookies. The meringue like frosting gives each cookie a sweet crunch before one is elated to cinnamon heaven. The almond nuttiness offers a delicious contrast to the sweet frosting.
See you in a few days hope Santa is especially generous - you've all been such wonderful readers, supporters and friends.
You might like these delightful treats from WFLH:
|Rich Creamy Truffles||Sticky Cinnamon Buns||Matcha White Chocolate Pralines with Pistachios|
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