Zimtsterne – ‘Cinnamon Stars’ – Traditional German Christmas Cookies

Shiny little Zimtsterne are a traditional German Christmas cookie. They’re sweet and chewy and nutty – naturally gluten free – and baked in a most unusual way.

jar of Zimtsterne and lights

The tree is decorated, presents are (mostly) chosen, but there’s wrapping still to do. Decorations are up, the goose is ordered, and a few tins of homemade cookies stashed away. There’s Christmas cake in the fridge downstairs and Boney M crooning ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ on the stereo. ‘Tis the season, with all its bustle and joy.

I’ll finish the wrapping tomorrow, and precook the red cabbage to serve with our Rouladen later, because I’m still busy doing a bit of last minute baking.

There’s always room for another batch of something sweet to have on hand for holiday nibbling. Shiny little Zimtsterne (Zimt is cinnamon and Sterne are stars) are a traditional German Christmas cookie – a must-have on any cookie plate. I’ve always loved eating them, but had never made them before. This was the year to change that. My talented Swiss friend Elsa, a master at fine cookies, gave me her recipe and I’ve made two delicious batches in the last few days.

spreading the glaze on the Zimtsterne

These dainty little morsels are ripe with cinnamon and chewy with almonds. Their baking technique is unusual and quite different from other cookies.The silky white glaze is spread onto the cookies before they’re baked, then dried to a smooth and glassy finish as the little cinnamon stars rest for several hours (or even overnight). The cookies are then blasted at high heat for a very short time, and a star is born!

Zimtsterne are a bit fiddly to ice, but I cranked up the Christmas music, made a mug of tea, and enjoyed the therapeutic effect of creating shiny star after shiny star as I swirled on the snowy white glaze.

white plate with Zimtsterne

Zimptsterne backen is one of those enjoyable Christmas activities that makes you slow down and really savour the season. We still have a couple days  before the big day – why not treat yourself to a baking session and make a batch of Zimtsterne? They’ll be the shining stars of your cookie plate.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: Use pre-ground almonds or grind your own if you have a high-powered blender or processor. I used almonds with the skins on, but you can also use blanched almonds.

Icing sugar is also known as confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar.

Zimtsterne are traditionally rolled out on a sugar-strewn work surface, but I wanted to keep from adding more sugar to the recipe, so I sprinkled my work surface lightly with rice flour and that worked very well.

Zimtsterne German Christmas Cookies

Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Star Cookies)

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 300 grams (2½ cups) icing sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons ground cinnamon (yes, that amount is correct)
  • 1 tablespoon Kirsch or brandy, or 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 350 grams (12.5 oz/3½ cups) ground almonds (2½ cups whole almonds, ground)
  • granulated sugar, flour, or rice flour to roll the cookies out on

Beat the egg whites until very stiff. Add the icing sugar and beat slowly until it is smoothly incorporated. Remove ½ cup (120ml) of this meringue, cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside to glaze the cookies later.

Add the cinnamon, Kirsch or lemon juice, and ground almonds to the remaining meringue and beat it in until the mixture forms a soft, sticky dough. Scrape it onto the counter, then knead the dough into a ball. Divide the ball into two.

Working with one ball at a time, roll it out on a lightly sugared or floured (I use sweet rice flour) surface until it is ½ to ¾ cm (just under ¼ inch) thick. Lift and rotate the disk of dough as you roll, sprinkling a bit more sugar or flour underneath so it doesn’t stick to the work surface. Try not to flour or sugar the top surface of the dough. Roll carefully so the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. If the dough gets very sticky on the top, just lightly flour your hands and wipe them over the top of the dough and wipe the rolling pin lightly to give it a thin film of flour. Re-roll and re-cut the scraps until all the dough is used up.

Cut out small stars (2 inches/5cm) or smaller and place on a cookie sheet. They won’t rise much so you can place the cookies quite closely together.

Use the reserved meringue to glaze the cookies. Take a small amount on the end of a butter knife, and spread it over the top of each cookie and into the points of the stars.

Tip for speedy version: Roll the dough into a rectangle. Spread with the glaze, then cut the dough into small squares, diamonds, or rectangles.

Leave the cookies to dry on the cookie sheets, uncovered, at room temperature, for 3 hours or up to overnight. (I left one batch for 18 hours and it was still great, though I wouldn’t leave them to dry for much longer than that.)

Preheat the oven to 475°F (240°C).

Bake the dried cookies for 3 to 4 minutes, or until you just see the glaze turning golden at the edges of some of the cookies. Watch very carefully so they don’t get dark. You want the glaze to be mostly white.

Let cool and store in an airtight container.

Makes 60 to 80 two-inch stars (depending on the shape of the cookie cutter and the thickness of the dough).

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Apricot Harlequin Cookies

Decadent Little Truffles

Easy Homemade Marshmallows (No Thermometer Needed!)

German Lebkuchen Loaf

Posted in Cookies & Candy, German Cooking | 4 Comments

Holiday Drinks Sampler

Here’s a lovely sampler of holiday drinks – some alcoholic and some not. Looking for the perfect cocktail, or maybe a chai tea syrup for gift-giving, or how about a frothy banana milk instead of eggnog? Lots of ideas here.

Happy Holiday Drinks

Guests are arriving soon, and you’d love to welcome them with a glass of bubbly or a mug of something warm. Try a few of these delicious offerings:

Poinsettia Cocktail – stir up individual drinks or make a pitcher full of this light, bubbly champagne & cranberry holiday cocktail:

Holiday Drinks - Poinsettia Cocktail

 

Pimm’s Cup isn’t only for the summertime. A pitcher of this would be a refreshing holiday drink. Use mandarin orange slices instead of regular, and stir in a few pomegranate seeds or cranberries to make it more seasonal:

Holiday Drinks - Pimm's Cup Cocktail

 

Or serve a tasty Jam-Smash Cocktail, using your favourite jam (who needs toast?):

Holiday Drinks - Jam Smash Cocktail

 

Why not try the kick of a Moscow Mule? Zingy ginger beer and bright lime juice give your taste buds a dance:

Holiday drinks - Moscow Mule

 

Or convert this Blueberry Sangria to a winter version, using frozen blueberries and cherries (no need to muddle them):

Holiday Drinks - blueberry sangria

 

And then there’s a lightened-up cranberry variation of a classic mulled Glüwein for some traditional holiday cheer. Set up a slow-cooker full of this for guests to sip on throughout the day or evening:

Holiday drinks - cranberry Mulled Wine

 

You could always start off the New Year’s festivities with Pickleback Shots – surprise your guests and get them laughing with this new drinks sensation:

Pickleback Shot and a pickle

* * * * *

And for some Delicious Non-alcoholic Beverage Treats:

Serve little cups of thick, rich, Italian style hot chocolate (almost like a dessert in itself):

Holiday Drinks - Italian Hot Chocolate

 

Or close your eyes and indulge in a hot mug of Chai Tea Latté made with your own Chai Spice Syrup:

Holiday Drinks - chai spice syrup

 

Whiz up a simple pitcher of Banana Milk as a tasty change from egg-nog:

Mmmm, banana milk with cinnamon

 

Got guests staying over for the holidays?  Serve them a breakfast of festive Gingerbread Dough Boy Smoothies, delicious Hummingbird muffins, and a platter of cut-up fresh fruit for a lighter start to the day.

gingerbread smoothie

 

For late-night comfort, curl up on the couch in your pajamas and cradle a mug of one of these three different flavoured warm milks. Sip while you enjoy the lights of the tree before heading off to bed.

holiday drinks - flavoured warm milks

butter & honey milk, turtle milk, molasses milk

 

If anyone’s feeling a little under the weather during the holidays, doctor them up with a dose of hot honey, lemon, and ginger tea. It’s a comforting drink, even when you’re not sick:

holiday drinks - hot honey lemon ginger tea

 

How about a pitcher of chia-seed infused Agua Fresca? This tangy limeade refreshes and hydrates, even in winter time – especially after all that holiday feasting:

holiday drinks, agua fresca de chia

 

Or just have pitchers of refreshing infused water handy in the fridge to sip when thirsty or to serve with holiday meals. Use a red apple instead of a green one, to provide holiday colour:

holiday drinks - wonder water

 

Whatever your drink of choice this holiday season, I hope you are raising your glass with family and friends, and toasting the many blessings you have in your life.

Merry Christmas!

With love from

Margaret, the Kitchen Frau

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The Pickleback – a New Drink Craze You Should Know About

Calling all pickle lovers! (And any whiskey drinkers out there, too.) There’s a new drink sensation you might want to try.

the two ingredients needed for a pickleback shot

This may not be earth-shattering news, but there is a small movement growing in the drinks world.  If you love pickles, you will want to grab your board and jump onto the wave. Even those of you who don’t like pickles may want to paddle around a bit in these pickle juice waters.

When we went to Raymond’s staff party a couple weeks ago, our host and bartender  (thanks, Scott) introduced us to the ‘Pickleback’.

What’s that? you ask. So simple really.

You take a shot of whiskey, and immediately after – you take a shot of straight-up pickle juice. Yep, that stuff drained from a jar of mouth-puckering dills.

And that’s it. You’ve just had a new taste experience. You’ll feel the warmth of the whiskey radiating through your insides, but your mouth will be tingling and fresh and you’ll feel like smacking your lips and doing a little pickle dance.

Or if you’re me, you’ll just want to have another shot of pickle juice – maybe throw back a tumbler of it like it was cool drink on a hot day . . .

Pickleback shots - here's the pickle pickleback shots - gotta take a bite of that pickle

After coming home from the party, I was intrigued and had to do a little research. It turns out this Pickleback really is a ‘thing’. (Not just a crazy northern Canadian invention discovered during some red-necked bush party after the mix ran out and there was still booze to be drained from the bottles.) The name was coined by Reggie Cunningham in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2006, but not surprisingly, the Pickleback has been around long before it was officially named. There’s even some unofficial science to suggest that the acetic acid in vinegar works to absorb salt, reduce hangovers, and prevent cramps (in case your arm cramps up from shooting back the juice – obviously!)

I’m not a big whiskey drinker – in fact, I’m not even a little whiskey drinker. But I did have to try a Pickleback. Curiosity got the better of me. And even though I just had about a quarter inch of whiskey in my shot glass that first time I tried it – I did get the effect. It was the pickle juice that won me over. I’ve since had a full shot of the whiskey, just for research purposes, of course 😉 and I can report that I’m still standing (and haven’t grown any hair on my chest).

The urge to have a shot of pickle juice straight from the jar doesn’t ever hit me ordinarily, but have that shot of whiskey first and the pickle juice right after, and it’s a little bit magical. The pickle juice helps neutralize the taste of the whiskey and the burn of the alcohol.

A word of advice – this is not where you want to slurp the juice from a jar of vinegary supermarket pickles, the kind that’s intensely yellow and sour. Nor do you want to slurp the sickeningly sweet juice from sugar-laden bread & butter pickles. In fact, you want the lovely salty brine from a jar of really good pickles, preferably artisanal or homemade ones, with no added ingredients but cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, and dill or garlic.

And your whiskey should be a Canadian rye – because that’s the good stuff, made from Canadian prairie-grown grain. You don’t want to use that expensive bottle of scotch for your pickleback experience, a decent, everyday bottle of rye will do.

(Don’t worry if you haven’t got, or can’t drink, rye whiskey – you can chase just about any kind of whiskey or scotch with a shot of pickle juice for a novel taste experience – the Canadian rye is just my personal uninformed-whiskey-drinker suggestion :) )

So, if you want an unashamedly red-neck and slightly funky drink to kick off your holiday festivities or to toast in the New Year – give the Pickleback a shot (pun intended).

Pickleback Shot and a pickle

Pickleback Shots

  • 1 shot* of any kind of whiskey (Canadian Rye being my suggestion)
  • 1 shot* of pickle brine from a jar of good quality dill pickles (preferably homemade or artisanal, not sweet ones)

Pour an equal-sized shot of whiskey and pickle brine into two shot glasses or small tumblers.

Drink the whiskey  in one swallow, then follow it immediately with the pickle brine.

Feel the warmth and enjoy the zesty pickle aftertaste.

There, you’ve now had a Pickleback.

Serves one, as many times as you’d like to repeat the experience (though I’m not responsible for any results after that first shot.)

*a shot of alcoholic beverage containing 40% alcohol is 1.5 fl oz or 43ml. A pony shot is 1 oz/30ml, but of course you can just pour equal amounts of the two into small glasses.

Cheers!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Poinsettia Cocktail and Punch

Moscow Mule Cocktail

Cranberry Mulled Wine

Jam Smash Cocktail

 

Posted in Drinks | 2 Comments

Zippy Potato Puffs – Cheesy Little Potato Appetizers

These cheesy little potato appetizers are sure to please at your next gathering. A slice of pickled jalapeño adds a spicy kick to the baked potato base, and it’s all topped by a creamy parmesan cap.

zippy potato parmesan puffs - little potato appetizers to whip up for holiday entertaining

Oh. My. Goodness. It’s twelve days until Christmas, and the Christmas spirit has finally struck! Now I’m running around in overdrive. Got shopping to do, gifts to wrap, bathrooms to clean, decorations still to lug out, friends to see, and partying to do.

This little appetizer has been a hit around here. For years (since before kids – and that’s an eternity ago) my go-to appetizer has been canned artichoke hearts, quartered, and dolloped with a mixture of equal parts Parmesan cheese and mayonnaise, then broiled to golden deliciousness. Always a hit.

Well, the hip new cousin on the block uses the same cheesy topping dolloped onto baked little potato halves and slices of pickled jalapeño peppers. The zing that’s joined the party is a welcome taste-bud tantalizer.

Cheesy little potato appetizers on blue board

I brought a tray of these to a party on the weekend and they were gobbled up. I brought some more to a friend’s house. Same thing. I’ve made a couple batches here at home. You guessed it – inhaled in a flash.

I love that you can roast the potatoes a couple days ahead if you want. I’ve also made the appetizers a few hours ahead and reheated them when we were ready to serve.

making cheesy little potato appetizers

Just stir together some grated Parmesan cheese and mayonnaise. Top each baked potato half with a slice of pickled jalapeño pepper, then dollop on the cheese mixture. Broil 5 minutes and voila – a whole lotta cheesy zing packed into each little mouthful.

pan of little potato appetizers

And if you’re making these appetizers for a crowd where not everyone likes that tongue-tingling burn, substitute a few of the peppers with pickle slices or sliced, stuffed green olives – same cheesiness; zippy pickle instead of fiery zing.

You’ll be invited back if you bring a tray of these to a party, and you’ll have guests hanging around if you serve these at yours. Always a good thing :)

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: If you can’t get a hold of pickled jalapeño pepper slices, you can slice up fresh jalapeños and quick-pickle them yourself. Method is below the recipe.

Dill pickle slices, or even slices of stuffed green olives, would make a good substitute for the jalapeños if you’re serving kids or spice-averse palates.

Use a good quality mayonnaise – I like to use Hellman’s Light. Or you can make your own.

For this recipe you need finely grated Parmesan cheese, the one that’s almost powdery, so it melts with the mayonnaise.

img_9045b

Zippy Potato Puffs (Cheesy Little Potato Appetizers)

  • 1 lb (454gms) tiny potatoes – 20-22 potatoes that are about 1½ inches/4cm in diameter
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • sprinkling of salt
  • 40-44 slices pickled jalapeno peppers (or *quick-pickled fresh jalapeños – see below)
  • ¾ cup (100gms) finely grated parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup ( 180gms) good quality mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

Line a 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper that comes up on all four sides. Put the little potatoes into the pan and drizzle with the oil. Shake the pan back and forth until the potatoes are coated with oil on all sides. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and shake again to distribute the salt.

Bake potatoes for 30-35 minutes, til tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly. (At this point the potatoes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Let them cool, then place them into a paper lunch bag, or in a bowl covered with a paper towel. Roll up the bag to close it, and refrigerate. The bag will help keep the potatoes dry on the outside.)

Preheat the broiler in the oven. Set the top oven rack so it is about 5 inches below the element at the top of the stove.

Slice each little potato in half through the widest part, so you have two shallow halves that lay flat. Slice a little nip off the bottom if they don’t lay flat. Arrange the potato halves onto a baking sheet so they are at least 1 inch apart.

Drain the pickled jalapeño slices and dab them dry with a paper towel. Place a slice of jalapeño onto each potato half, cutting bigger slices in half if needed.

In a small bowl, stir together the grated Parmesan cheese and the mayonnaise. Top each potato with a 1 – 1½ teaspoon-sized dollop of the cheese mixture. Divide up any left over mixture onto the potatoes.

Broil for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling in spots. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Let cool a minute before serving. The spiciness of the pepper is more intense when the appetizers are piping hot.

If you make these little potato appetizers ahead, reheat them for 10 minutes in a 350°F (180°C) oven.

Makes 40 to 44 appetizers.

 

*How to quick-pickle jalapeños – slice whole fresh jalapeño peppers crosswise into thin rings. Place in a small bowl and cover with white vinegar. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes. Drain and dab dry with a paper towel. Use the rings as you would use canned pickled jalapeños in these appetizers.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

Other great appetizers you might also like:

Li’l Honey Lemon Fingerling Potato Appetizers

Lentil Taco Tartlets

Queso Fundido

Gluten Free Sausage Rolls with Tzatziki Dipping Sauce

Posted in Appetizers, Eggs & Cheese, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Okay, so Now I’ve Eaten Grasshoppers

Crispy, salty, toasted grasshoppers actually add a nice crunch to a cheesy quesadilla. (Never though I’d say that!)

eating grasshoppers, ready to bite into the grasshopper quesadilla

Yup, and they were actually quite tasty.

When my friend Christine said she and her husband Gilbert had brought some grasshoppers back from Mexico and they were having us over for dinner so we could try them, I kinda gulped. As a ‘foodie’, I now have a reputation to uphold. I need to be open-minded about all kinds of food. But INSECTS?!!!!

I couldn’t look like a wuss, so I gamely (and kind of weakly) said, Sure, I’m into eating grasshoppers. However, all week, Raymond and I kept thinking, Maybe we should make up an excuse not to go, and Well, how bad can they really be? and I mean, they’re considered a delicacy in Mexico, right? 

eating grasshoppers, here's a plateful

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Certainly not a big tray filled with the crunchy, mahogany-hued critters – looking very . . . um . . . ‘grasshoppery’.

Called  chapulines, they are a popular snack in certain areas of Mexico, sold in big piles in markets during summer and early autumn. To prepare them, the grasshoppers are thoroughly cleaned, then toasted on a comal (flat clay cooking griddle) with salt, and other spices like garlic, lime juice, or guajillo chilis. The end result is an extra crispy, tasty little snack that’s high in protein and low in fat – beats potato chips, hands down, in the nutrition department. In Mexico, roasted or fried grasshoppers are a bar snack eaten with beer, sold at sporting events in some areas (like Oaxaca), and just munched on for a crunchy treat.

eating grasshoppers, this one looks plump and crispy

I did try a couple grasshoppers just like that, and they weren’t that bad – salty, a bit yeasty, and spicy from the flavourings. When Christine added them to crusty quesadillas oozing melted cheese and zippy salsa, those grasshoppers became stars. They added a wonderful crunch and another layer of subtle flavour. The verdict: Delicious!

eating grasshoppers, a dollop of green salsa on the quesadilla

eating grasshoppers in a cheese quesadilla

Though, if you’re just not into eating grasshoppers, or don’t have connections to the Mexican insect-importing black market, you can substitute crunchy roasted and salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for a good quesadilla variation.

heating tortillas for eating grasshoppers in the quesadillas

their daughter Annette fried up the quesadillas

eating grasshoppers, add a handful to the tortilla

then she opened each one and added a handful of grasshoppers

(If you’re really into grasshoppers you can pile them up much more thickly than this.)

eating grasshoppers with melted cheese in quesadillas

then a dollop of salsa

I’m glad I tried eating grasshoppers. It was a new frontier for me – this eating of insects. Though my friends tell me that ant larvae are another real delicacy in Mexico. That’s a whole different story entirely. I don’t think I could eat those . . .

But, shhhhh, I’ll let you in on a secret . . . . they sent me home with a bag of roasted grasshoppers, and I’m going to serve grasshopper quesadillas to my mom, sister, and her family, who are coming to spend some of the Christmas holidays with us.

We’ll see if they’re as brave as me 😉

* * * * *

eating grasshoppers in a cheese quesadilla

Grasshopper (or Pepita) Quesadillas

  • small corn tortillas (or flour tortillas)
  • slices of a good melting cheese – like Fruilano or cheddar
  • roasted, salted grasshoppers (or roasted, salted pumpkin seeds/pepitas)
  • green tomatillo salsa or red tomato salsa, for serving
  • sour cream, for serving (optional)

Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Dip the tortillas into water, wetting both sides, or wet them under running water from the faucet. Heat the tortillas in the skillet until brown spots appear, flipping them to cook both sides.

Lay a thick slice of cheese onto one side of each tortilla in the skillet, then fold the other side over it like a book cover. Cook until the bottom is crispy and the cheese is starting to melt, then flip the folded tortilla over to cook the other side.

Remove the tortillas to a plate, open each one up and add a small handful of roasted grasshoppers or pumpkin seeds on top of the melted cheese. Add a drizzle of red or green salsa down the center and close the tortilla back up.

Serve with sour cream and additional salsa for dipping.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Queso Fundido and a Mexican Cooking Class

Tortilla Soup, Hola from the Mexican Sun

Pico de Gallo Three Ways

Paella Party! Olé!

eating grasshoppers

and the one grasshopper said to the other one . . .

Posted in Appetizers, Eggs & Cheese, Miscellaneous, Snacks | 6 Comments