In Germany, Christmas cookies are one of the season’s most enduring traditions. No visit to friends or family is complete until a small tray of delicate, eye-catching cookies has been passed around and enjoyed. Dedicated bakers make dozens of different kinds of cookies, some for eating right away and some that will keep for weeks. Keep reading for our traditional Zimtsterne recipe.
One popular holiday treat is zimtsterne, or cinnamon stars. These are delicate, star-shaped treats made from nuts and meringue, with a light and pleasant cinnamon flavor. They’re a handy recipe if you have been making custards or cream pies and have leftover egg whites. Switzerland also lays claim to these very traditional cookies. The Zimtsterne recipe goes back hundreds of years, dating back at least to the Holy Roman Empire.
- ½ pound finely ground almonds or hazelnuts (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely-chopped lemon zest
- Whites of 2 large eggs (about ¼ cup of egg whites)
- Pinch salt
- 1-1/2 cups of icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- To make cinnamon stars, start with a half-pound of finely ground almonds or hazelnuts. That’s approximately 1 ½ cups if you don’t have a kitchen scale. Toss them with a teaspoon each of cinnamon and finely chopped lemon zest. Set the bowl aside while you prepare the meringue.
- Use the whites of two large eggs, or a quarter-cup of whites if you have been saving them in a container while baking other treats. Add a pinch of salt and whip the whites until they foam and double in volume. Slowly add 1 ½ cups of icing sugar, whipping constantly until the meringue is glossy and forms soft peaks.
- Set aside 1/3 of the meringue in a separate bowl to glaze the cookies. Fold the nut mixture into the remaining 2/3 of the meringue to make a stiff dough. It’s too sticky to roll conventionally, so sprinkle a sheet of wax paper or parchment with a small amount of flour and turn the mixture out onto it. Pat it flat with the palm of your hand, then cover the dough with a second sheet of wax paper and roll it ¼ inch thick.
- Uncover the sheet of cookie dough and cut it into stars using a small cutter, no more than 2 ½ inches across. Transfer the stars to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Gather up the scraps and re-roll them, until you’ve cut as many stars as you can. If the dough sticks to your cutter, dip it in cold water after every few cookies.
- Bake the cookies in a preheated oven at 350 F for 12 minutes until partially set. Remove them from the oven and set the sheet on a heatproof trivet. Spread the top of the cookies with the remaining 1/3 of the meringue to create a glaze. Return the cookies to the oven for seven or eight minutes until the glaze is set and slightly golden in color.
- Cool the cookies on a wire rack until they’ve reached room temperature, then store them in an airtight container. The finished cookies need a day or two to mellow into their proper crisp-and-chewy texture. They’ll keep for weeks if properly stored, so you can pull out a few any time you have unexpected guests.