Cinnamon stars (zimtsterne)

 Zimtsterne, cinnamon stars, are a type of German Christmas cookie.

Zimtsterne, cinnamon stars, are a type of German Christmas cookie.

A European Christmas

Have you ever been to a Christmas market in Europe? It is truly magical: twinkling lights, wood fires, aromatic spices, the hum of friendly conversation. An abundance of curated goods and local food specialties are set in wooden stalls, tempting you at every turn. Everyone seems so joyful and adorable with their rosy cheeks and wooly scarves, warming up with a mug of mulled wine (of course). From Austria to Germany to Belgium, each market is unique and charming in its own way. Right now, I'm reminiscing about market-hopping in Cologne last December, on a weekend adventure with my friend Pauline after she visited us in Genoa. 

German Christmas cookies are, hands-down, my favourite. (Sorry, Italian family.) These cinnamon stars (zimtsterne in German) are chewy, nutty, spicy and have an airy crunch from the meringue, which then softly melts away. If you close your eyes, you may feel like you are sitting in front of a crackling wood fire, bundled up and lost in a really good book. Or, perhaps, you are outside, cracking the layer of ice that forms over a puddle, indulging in a simple childhood pleasure. Whatever it may be, I guarantee you will enjoy these cookies and they will be a delicious and impressive addition to your Christmas table. 

 Zimtsterne, cinnamon stars, process shot.

Zimtsterne, cinnamon stars, process shot.

Recipe

Cinnamon Stars (Zimtsterne)

  • 3 egg whites (90 g)
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 375 g almonds, finely ground

Beat the egg whites until foamy with a mixer or a whisk. Add the powdered sugar slowly and beat until soft peaks form. Place about 3 tbsp of this mixture aside for the icing. 

To the remaining mixture, fold in the spices and almonds until the dough is no longer sticky. 

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll until 1 cm thick. Freeze for 2 hours, or until firm. 

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Remove the dough from the freezer and place on a work surface. Peel off the top layer of parchment.

Dip a star cutter into powdered sugar and cut out as many stars as you can. Re-roll the dough using the method above and cut out more stars. Put the dough back in the freezer if it is too soft or sticky and wait until it is firm again, then continue. 

Place the stars on a lined baking sheet. Brush with the meringue icing, spreading all the way to the corners without letting the icing spill over the edge. 

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the bottom is set. If the meringue browns too quickly, cover with parchment paper or lower the heat of the oven. This may take some experimentation, and practice makes perfect of course. 

Allow to cool completely -- and then enjoy! 

 Shiny, smooth meringue icing on cinnamon stars (zimtsterne). 

Shiny, smooth meringue icing on cinnamon stars (zimtsterne).