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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 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).
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