It does not feel very much like Christmas – weather-wise. After a few days of extreme cold with -10 degrees, where the entire landscape was frozen in sparkly white ice crystals, it is now too warm and a mix between windy grey skies and a moisture in the air.
Although Christmas is an adopted Holiday for me I love all of the magical charm Christmas brings along. The Advent calendar, candles, sparkly lights, baubles and decorations all enamour me immensely. My decorations are often natural with lots of wood, earthy colors, wreaths and spices. I like making more personal advent calendars for both my men. For Soeren I made one several years ago - I think he was three – using red and green felt I stitched small bags and decorated each with a Christmas motive and a number 1 through 24. Each year I pack the bags with his favorite chocolates and something small and useful.
For my husband I made this grown up naughty boozy calendar with small bottles of schnapps or boozy chocolates - small surprises hidden in the boxes for each day till Christmas Eve. It was an easy readymade template that I put together in two evenings with a few glasses of wine and a piece or two of stollen and Michael Bublé humming through the speakers. The Advent season is an important rich in tradition time in Germany.
A big part of the Christmas culture in Germany is Advent, which starts punctually on the first day of December and/or first Advent. The Advent calendar is the first of the little surprises that actually chime in the countdown to Christmas. The traditional ones made out of card with a little treat hidden behind each “window” or “door” are popular and available in many stores. I prefer the more individual ones, which can be made with fir tree branches, a wreath or just a pieces of string with bags and boxes hanging from them. Families wake up every morning and often the first place they head to, is their own personal Advent calendar, feeling the bag or shaking the box trying to guess what is inside.
The “Adventskranz” or Advent Wreath is another very German tradition here. Many families in Germany put an Advent wreath on the living room table on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The wreaths have four large candles and, traditionally, pinecones and berries. Each Sunday before Christmas a candle will be lit until all four candles light the room. The Advent wreath tradition is especially observed in households where the decorated tree is not put up until Christmas Eve. Until then, the Advent wreath provides the heart-warming candlelight and evergreen aroma throughout the month. Each Advent Sunday families gather around and enjoy an afternoon tea and coffee with homemade baked stollen and cookies. In our home we invite friends and family to enjoy the Christmas cookies, cakes and stollen – sometimes accompanied with some Glühwein. This is what my Adventskranz looks like this year. Over the years we have developed a ritual in our home and each Advent Sunday we bring down one or two pieces of Christmas decoration from our attic. The “Räuchermännchen” the classic incense smokers, the wooden pyramid with long stemmed candles or the “Schwibbogen” – a candle arch, given to me by my inlaws – handcarved from the Ore Mountains or my favorite Nutcracker I found last year at a second hand shop!
Christmas markets adorn the center of almost every town and village in Germany. Although the more famous ones like the ones in Nuremburg, Dresden or Munich are well-known across the borders, those charming smaller ones often captivate me more. Apparently there are over 2,500 Christmas markets across Germany each inviting visitors to enter the festive mood. Markets commonly feature a nativity scene, and vendors offer a wide variety of gifts, including many that are still hand crafted, which make great unique presents. There is a wide array of mouthwatering foods like grilled sausages, freshly baked tarts and stuffed breads, fried fish on a fresh bread roll (Backfisch), sautéed mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and candied almonds. There will be fruit punch and Glühwein or mulled wine, crepes and doughnuts – all enticing to take a long stroll through the city.
A pivotal part of the Christmas celebration is the Christmas tree and often a matter of great pride. In Germany the trees are commonly real trees and are usually conifers such as fir, spruce or pine. According to German custom the trees are usually brought into the house on Christmas Eve and decorated with candles or strings of lights, as well as a variety of intricate ornaments. The three of us usually pack a thermos with hot chocolate and a few cookies and head out to a little plantation of conifer trees. We walk through the rows and rows of trees, armed with an axe and a saw looking for our perfect three. When it snows there is a magical mood as the snow crackles under our feet and the flakes cover the needles and pinecones. If it rains, our boots squish in the muddy paths while the drops of water gleam on the tips of branches. Warm days and sunny blue skies light up the entire plantation with an uncharacteristic feel. Whatever the weather, our ceremony each year, after we have found that gorgeous tree and after it has slid into the net and loaded into the car, is to sit in the boot of the car, feet dangling and celebrate with our chocolate and those homemade cookies.
Cookies are a big part of Christmas for us. Not only are they always the perfect treats during the Advent tea afternoons they make awesome gifts for colleagues, friends and teachers. I make sure to bake enough to give away as presents but also enough for us to indulge all the way till Christmas.
This year I was invited to my best friend place to spend an evening of baking. While we baked we opened a nice bottle of wine, lit up candles and put on some Christmas music. My friend’s mother joined us and she brought along all her cookie baking know-how. I was thankful as she has the wonderful ability to shape and form the tiniest of cookies. She also brought along some small wooden spekulatius forms that allowed us to make picture perfect cookies.
In my cookie box this year for you are these special butter spekulatius cookies – very traditional and very German, Spritz cookies infused with orange and dipped in rich dark chocolate and the rather untraditionally German, rocky road spiked with fleur de sel, pistachios, freeze dried raspberry and cranberries are decadent and just so good. Other cookies in my cookie box this year were these Norwegian Christmas cookies, my Vanilla Kipferl and these Linzer Cookies with Lingonberry and Cloudberry Jam from last year’s cookie post.
Enjoy this year’s cookie post and I hope you find pleasure in baking some of these great recipes. Make enough as they are great gifts – spread the great Christmas spirit and tradition.
Recipe: German Butter SpekulatiusMeeta K. Wolff
Makes: 50-60 small cookies
- 150g Butter, cold and cut into pieces
- 125g brown sugar
- 1 egg, medium
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- pinch of ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ginger podwer
- zest of 1 lemon
- 60g very finely ground almonds
- 300g flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- In a bowl of a stand mixer place the butter, egg and the sugar. With the whisk attachment beat the mixture for 10 minutes until fluffy. Add the lemon zest, ground almonds and the spices. With a spatula, mix into the mixture.
- Then add the baking powder and flour and once again with the spatula mix together. Then with your hands, quickly bring the dough together into a ball. Flatten into a disk, place on a plate and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Line a baking tray with some baking paper. On a floured counter-top roll out the dough to about 4 mm thickness. Using a small cookie cutter cut out the cookies and place each on the tray. Using a cookie stamp / spekulatius roller, indent the motives on the cookies. Place the tray back into the fridge and allow to rest for 2 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. Watching them very carefully so that they do not darken. If you find they are place another baking tray under the cookie tray and cover the cookies with baking paper. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Make sure you do not knead or handle the dough too much. It tends to loose structure and will become too crumbly to roll out so thinly.
- My mother-in-law prepares the shortcrust pastry a day earlier and leaves the dough to rest in a cool place closer to room temperature rather than the fridge. This gave the dough a very pliable consistency making it easy to roll out and work with.
- In the oven the spekulatius cookies tend to brown / burn very easily as they are very thin. Keep an eye on them through out the baking process.
- After baking and cooling the cookies should be crispy. Make sure the dough is rolled thinner as you normally would roll out the classic butter cookies.
- Store these cookies separately in a dry cookie tin. Make sure you do not store them with moister kinds of cookies - otherwise these become soggy!
- In Germany one can find special spekulatius spice mixes but I really prefer using my own individual whole spices and quickly grinding them. This is my favorite spice combination but you can also use ground nutmeg or allspice to complement the other spices.
- You really do not need the fancy cookie stamps if you do not have them any simple cookie cutter with different Christmas motives will work just as well.
Recipe: Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cranberry Pistachio Rocky RoadMeeta K. Wolff
Makes: 25 pieces
- 25 large marshmallows
- 800g dark chocolate, melted
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pistachios, coarsely chopped
- a few pinches of course sea salt
- 2 tablespoons freeze dried raspberries, crushed
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, unsweetened
- Line a baking tray approx. 20cm x 30cm with some baking paper. Arrange the marshmallows side-by-side in the tray.
- Pour over the melted dark chocolate and rap the tray a few times on the counter-top to get rid of any air bubbles and to evenly distribute the chocolate.
- Sprinkle the sea salt, crushed freeze dried raspberries, cranberries and pistachios over the chocolate.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the chocolate is set and firm. Using a sharp knife cut into bars or along the sides of each marshmallow for individual portions. These rocky roads will keep for up to a week in a cook dark place.
- To give these as gifts wrap the bars in some wax paper then wrap in wrapping paper, tying each end with some string. Decorate with wooden stars or pine cones.
- Individual pieces can be put in small brown paper bags and tied with colorful string and natural decorations - these will be a real eye-catcher.
Recipe: Dark Chocolate and Orange Butter Spritz CookiesMeeta K. Wolff
Makes: 35 cookies
- 200g Butter, softened
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg
- 8 tablespoons milk
- 200g flour
- 100g cornflour
- 200g dark chocolate, melted
- zest of 1 orange
- In a bowl of a standmixer place the butter and using the whisk attachement, whisk until creammy. Rub the orange zest into the sugar with your finger tips, then transfer into the bowl along with the egg and continue to whisk until smooth fluffy. Pour the milk and incorporate into the mixture.
- SIeve the flour with the cornflour and mix into the butter-sugar mixture. The entire mixture needs to have a smooth consistency easy to pipe. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Butter a baking tray then line with some baking paper. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
- Fill a piping bag with the batter using a spoon to push the batter to the end. Using a star shaped tipp, pipe the batter in S-shapes or rings. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Place on a wire rack to cool completely. Dip half of each cookie into the melted dark chocolate then allow to drip on the wire rack.
I wish you all a very Merry and Happy Holidays – from my kitchen to yours – lots of icing, frosting, spice and sugar and sweetness, lots of tinsel, baubles and sparkles.
If you are looking for some unique personal gift ideas from your kitchen make sure you check out my post edible gifts in jars. You will find some impressive ideas like these Raspberry Pine Nuts Muesli Bars.
You might like these Christmas cookie ideas from What’s for lunch, Honey?:
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