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Anyone who reads this blog knows that my Oma is the person that sparked my love for baking. Many of the memories that sparked that love the most are from Christmas cookie day. Like many German housewives, Oma had a set assortment she’d make each year. Vanillekipferl, Spritzgebäck and Buttergebäck were there, but she also always made Springerle, Makronen and Schwarz-Weiss Gebäck. She’d schedule one day where she baked hundreds of cookies at once. Every single available surface would be covered with cookies cooling off or waiting to go in the oven. It was a huge undertaking. As a child I got to munch on raw Spritzgebäck dough and turn the crank on the massive steel cookie extruder inherited from my great-grandmother. It weighed what seemed like a million pounds and I struggled to lift it, but just seeing it made my little heart race.
A few years ago, I managed to visit Germany for Christmas and once again got to bake with my grandmother. This time I was an experienced baker, and instead of just standing wide-eyed at her feet I was able to take work off of her hands. It was an incredibly special day I’ll honestly never forget.
So, this year I wanted to share my Oma’s cookie assortment with you. I did add one recipe that’s my own. Spekulatius always had a place at our table, but we usually buy it rather than making it. I have since developed my own recipe, and I think it fits in wonderfully with my Oma’s spread.
ON GERMAN COOKIES
There are some things all German Christmas cookies have in common: They’re on the dry side and meant to be eaten with coffee or tea. They also all have an incredible shelf-life. They can easily be eaten one or two weeks later and still taste great, provided they are stored in individual air-tight containers (i.e. no storing Makronen with Vanillekipferl, etc).
The key to authentic flavor is spices and good quality nut flours. The time to break out the real vanilla bean (or vanilla bean paste), freshly grated nutmeg and citrus zest is now. While you can cut corners and get a decent result, the cookies won’t be as good as they’re meant to be.
If you can get your hands on German vanilla sugar, great. If not, there’s no shame in using some scraped vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste. I tend to make my own vanilla sugar by rubbing vanilla bean caviar into granulated sugar and letting it sit a while. If you’ve got a week or so to let your vanilla sugar absorb flavor, this isn’t a bad option. I’ll be adding Amazon affiliate links to this entry for any ingredients that may be hard to find.
Also known as Spritz Cookies, these are a classic cookie with an almond flour base and a nice vanilla flavor. Chocolate dipping is optional, but recommended.
375g (1 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp ) butter
250g (1 1/4 cup) sugar
250g (2 1/4 cup) flour
250g (2 1/4 cup) cornstarch
125g (1 1/4 cup) almond flour
1 tbsp vanilla sugar OR 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Dark chocolate and vegetable oil (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 390°F/200°C. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate. Sift together all the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.
2. If the dough is a bit too firm to pipe, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften it. Fill the dough into a piping bag fitted with a star tip (I recommend 1M) and pipe out any design you like. I’ll include some examples at the end of this recipe!
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the ridges of the spritz are lightly browned. Once the cookies have cooled completely, mix a teaspoon of oil into a cup of melted dark chocolate. Dip or drizzle the cookies as desired.
Below are a few examples of shapes you can pipe. Feel free to get creative and make up your own!
Also known as butter cookies or Buttergebackenes, these are a basic roll-out cookie that’s elevated with the addition of spices. Typically brushed in egg wash and garnished with sprinkles.
250g (1 cup) butter
250g (1 1/4 cup) sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp vanilla sugar OR 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp orange zest
500g (4 1/2) flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
For the egg wash…
1 egg yolk
Sprinkles, colored sugars or nuts (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 390°F/200°C. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate. Add all the spices and zest and mix to combine. Sift together all the flour and baking powder and mix until just combined.
2. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of saran wrap, flatten it into a disk and and wrap it well. Keep it in the fridge for 4-6 hours or overnight to chill thoroughly.
3. Dust your countertop with flour and roll the cookies out to a little under 1/4″ thickness. Using cookie cutters of your choice, cut out shapes and arrange them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 1″ apart.
4. Mix the egg yolk with a splash of water in a small bowl, then brush the egg onto the tops of the cookies. Decorate with sprinkles, nuts or colored sugars as desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until undersides of the cookies are lightly browned.
Vanillekipferl or Almond Crescents are another classic German Christmas cookie. The cookie itself has an almond flour base, and it’s hand-rolled into a crescent shape and dredged in a combination of powdered sugar and vanilla sugar.
500g (4 1/2 cups) flour
325g (1 1/3 cup) butter
200g (2 cups) almond flour
200g (1 cup) sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
Powdered sugar and vanilla sugar for rolling
1. Preheat your oven to 375°F/190°C. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the almond flour and mix to combine. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.
2. Using a cookie scoop, scoop out the dough into equal portions. Split each portion in half and use your hands to roll it into a log with tapered ends. Place dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a curved half-moon shape. Keep the cookies at least 1/2″ apart. They will expand a little, but not much.
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are set at the center and every-so-lightly browned. Allow to cool for 15
minutes or so, until the cookies are warm but not too hot to move around. Stir together the vanilla and powdered sugars in a bowl. Toss the cookies in the sugar mixture, transfer to a tray and allow them to cool completely.
Essentially German Macaroons, Makronen are baked on an Oblaten (wafer paper) base. They can be made with almond or coconut.
3 egg whites
100g (1 cup) powered sugar
200g (2 cups) almond flour (I like coursely ground for this recipe) or dessicated coconut
1. Preheat your oven to 390°F/200°C. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Continue to beat while gradually adding the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the almond flour into the meringue until just combined. If you overfold, the batter will become runny.
2. Arrange the oblaten/wafer rounds on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop a dollop of batter onto each wafer round. Sprinkle each cookie with some slivered almonds. Bake 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned all over. (Note: You can make these without the wafer rounds, but be sure to use parchment as they can stick.)
These 4-ingredient cookies have a very tender shortbread texture and are perfect for shaping into checkerboard patterns.
375g (3 1/4 cups) flour
100g (1 cup) powdered sugar
250g (1 cup) butter
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp matcha powder (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 390°F/200°C. Combine the butter and powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the flour bit by bit, mixing to incorporate.
2. Split off half the dough and wrap it in saran wrap. Split the remainder of the dough in half. Knead 1 tbsp of cocoa into one half and 1 tbsp of matcha into the other. If the dough is crumbly, add milk 1/2 tsp at a time until it holds together. Wrap both doughs in saran wrap. Store all the dough in the fridge.
3. Once the dough is chilled, shape into checkerboard or designed logs. Tips for this will be listed below. Once you’ve got your logs finished and chilled, slice them into 1/2cm cookies. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until set. You don’t want much browning on the tops at all.
TIPS FOR SHAPING
CHECKERBOARDS: Roll each color you’d like to use to the same thickness. Cut a square of similar size out of each layer of dough, then layer them together using a bit of water to stick them together. Freeze for 15 minutes. Slice the square into layers about as wide as each color is thick. Using more water to stick them together, arrange the strips as you desire for your pattern. It’ll be a long, square log. Freeze again, then slice into 1/4″ cookies and bake.
SHAPES INSIDE: Choose the shape and color you’d like to have inside; I picked matcha dough and christmas trees. Roll the dough out quite thickly, then use a cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Freeze the pieces for 5 minutes, then use water to stack them together into a row. Re-freeze for 5 minutes. Use a second color (I chose plain/white), pad out area around the frozen shapes with the dough bit by bit, rolling as you go to smooth things out. Once you’ve got a nice round log shape, wrap it in saran wrap and freeze it for 15 minutes. If you want to make a border, roll a third color out thinly. Brush the outside of the log with water and then roll it over the thin layer of dough (like a sushi roll!). Freeze for 10 minutes, then slice into 1/4″ cookies and bake.
PINWHEELS: Roll each color you’d like to use to the same thickness. Cut a square/rectangle of similar size out of each layer of dough, then layer them together using a bit of water to stick them together. Starting at one end, roll it up into a log shape. Freeze for 15 minutes, then slice into 1/4″ cookies and bake.
Also known as Spekulaas, Spekuloos or Spéculoos, these are highly spiced cookies great for molding. The homemade variety is a bit softer than storebought and packs even more flavor. These taste best a couple days after baking.
225g (scant 1 cup) butter
200g (1 cup) sugar
1 heaping tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp anise
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder
420g (3 3/4 cup) flour
50g (scant half cup) corn starch
30g (1/3 cup) almond flour
3 tbsp milk
slivered almonds (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 390°F/200°C. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, citrus zests and almond extract and beat to incorporate. Sift together all the remaining ingredients (except the milk) and mix until just combined. Add the milk bit by bit until the dough comes together into a ball. Turn the dough out onto saran wrap, wrap it up and put it in the fridge 4 hours.
2. Either roll out the cookies and cut them out with a cookie cutter, or follow directions for a cookie stamp or mold. (For directions on stamp cookie molds, check out my Springerle recipe!) Arrange the cookies either on a
parchment-lined cookie sheet, or on a cookie sheet covered in a bed of slivered almonds.
3. Bake for 5 minutes before turning the tray to achieve even browning. Now bake for another 5-8 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
I hope you all have an absolutely wonderful Christmas and New Year’s Eve! I will see you on January 1st to ring in the new year with Nyanuary!