Cookie joy from the German Christmas Markets
Gluhwein, stollen and bratwurst; gigantic gingerbread hearts wrapped with crimson bows; nutcrackers of every size and description; stands chock-a-block with kitschy ornaments; mistletoe and pine boughs and lovely handmade wood ornaments and toys—German Christmas markets delight every sense.
And the cookies. German bakers make magic with butter, eggs and the flavours of the season—nuts, warm spices, dried fruits.
The treasure of last year’s Christmas Market foray was lebkuchen, a glazed spice cookie from the impressive Dallmayr Gourmet shop in central Munich. They were large cookies sold in a six-pack, three sugar glazed and three chocolate glazed. The cookie was a revelation, deep, complex flavours, not too sweet, with an intriguing chewy (not cakey) texture—an ideal Christmas cookie.
I didn’t buy enough.
I became a little bit obsessed with lebkuchen—flourless, made with honey, lots of nuts, citrus peel, exotic spices and marzipan with a long history dating back to medieval monasteries in northern Bavaria. I bet every Bavarian grandmother has her secret recipe for family lebkuchen. Not having a grandmother, let alone a German oma, I was on my own with my obsession.
In August I wrote to Dallmayr asking if they would supply the recipe for Tomato readers. No response. I tried a few more times, still no response. I checked the Dallmayr web site; perhaps they could ship some. Nope, no lebkuchen, just lots of chocolate and coffee. In the meantime I looked for lebkuchen closer to home. I called Artistic Bakery, home of the Bavarian salted pretzel. “Yes, we carry lebkuchen at the holidays. No, we don’t make it ourselves.”
Time to get out the mixing bowl and recreate this delightful cookie. First you need to find oblaten. This is the thin papery wafer that the cookie sits on. Monks and nuns in Franconia are credited with making the first lebkuchen using leftover Eucharist wafers (presumably unconsecrated) as the base. Monks and nuns have been responsible for many delicious things, like beer, cheese and biscotti, but I digress. I called K&K, my source for everything German and tasty. “Yes we have oblaten, in three sizes.”
Chocolate Glazed Lebkuchen
What follows is a close approximation of the Dallmayr original. Not quite the cookie of memory, but it’ll do, for now.
In a mortar and pestle, or spice grinder finely grind* equal amounts of star anise, allspice, coriander and green cardamom seed to equal about 2 teaspoons. Grate about ½ teaspoon each of nutmeg and mace and add to the mix. Add ½ teaspoon ground ginger. Grind cinnamon sticks to equal 2½ tablespoons; cloves to equal about 2 teaspoons and whisk into the ground spice mix. It should be a fine powder. Reserve.
* If you don’t want to grind your own, find measurements for pre-ground spices at the end of the recipe.
|⅓ c||candied orange peel|
|1¼ c||diced lemon peel (citron)|
|2 c||almonds, skin on|
|2 c||hazelnuts, skinned|
|1¼ c||packed brown sugar|
|1 t||pure vanilla extract|
|3 t||spice mix or to taste|
|zest of 1 lemon|
|½ t||baking powder|
|72||almond halves (optional garnish)|
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place oblaten on the sheet.
Pulse orange and lemon peel in a food processor until finely chopped. If the peel is very moist, you may need to add a tablespoon of flour to keep it from sticking together. Reserve.
Pulse nuts in a food processor until very finely chopped. Reserve. Beat the eggs with sugar, honey and vanilla until foamy. Whisk in the spice mix, salt and lemon zest.
Combine baking powder, nuts and peel with the egg mixture. The mixture will be a bit gloppy. Spread each oblaten with not more than a ½-inch thick layer of dough, leaving ¼-inch all round. Bake for 20 minutes. The rounds should still be moist and soft. Glaze while warm. Place three almond halves on each cookie in a star pattern if desired.
|100 g||semi-sweet chocolate (approx ½ cup)|
|½ T||unsalted butter|
Melt chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir constantly until smooth. Take off heat, cool slightly then glaze each cookie. Place lebkuchen on a cookie rack with a large tray underneath to catch drips. Let dry completely before storing. Store in a cookie tin at room temperature for up to six weeks.
Makes 24 cookies.
Don’t want to grind your own? Whisk together ¼ t ground nutmeg, ¼ t ground mace, ½ t ground ginger, ½ t ground star anise, ½ t ground allspice, ½ t ground coriander, ½ t ground green cardamom, 2 t ground cloves, 2½ T ground cinnamon. Reserve.
Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)
A light and lovely nutty meringue cookie. Adapted from germanfoods.org. Note: zimtsterne taste best the day after baking.
|1½ c||blanched almonds, finely ground|
|1 t||ground cinnamon|
|¾ t||grated lemon zest|
|¼ c||egg whites (about 2 large)|
|1½ c||icing sugar|
|about ½ cup additional icing sugar for rolling|
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine nuts, cinnamon, and zest. Beat the egg whites on low until foamy, about 30 seconds. Add salt, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually and beat until stiff and glossy, 5 to 8 minutes. Reserve one-third of the meringue (about ⅓ cup) and fold the nut mixture into the remaining meringue.
Prepare a clean work surface with a large piece of waxed paper and sprinkle with some of the reserved sugar. Place dough on the paper, sprinkle with a bit more sugar, them top with a second piece of waxed paper. Roll out dough to approx ¼-inch thick. Remove the top piece of waxed paper and cut out cookies using a star-shaped cookie cutter. Dip the cutter into water when it becomes sticky. Reroll and cut any scraps. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Spread the reserved meringue on top of the cookies and bake until the tops are very lightly coloured, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool. Store in a cookie tin for up to 3 weeks.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.