Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I've been making Christmas cookies. You should see my kitchen.

Last week the teacher in charge of the library volunteers invited all of us hard-working mothers to her home for afternoon cake and coffee, asking that we each bring something sweet to share.

I brought along Cranberry Shortbread (first attempt making this - very nice, but next time I'd add some finely chopped candied ginger as well) and Toffee Bars (thank you, Maribeth, these were wonderful!)

After the initial suspicion had passed (you know how some Germans can be about trying new things), these cookies were well-received and disappeared quickly.

Today I concentrated on some family favourites: iced sugar cookies, checkerboards, gingerbread reindeer and vanilla cresents.

The sugar cookies are a recipe I've been making since I was about 6 years old. It's from one of those charity cookbooks from the 50's where everyone submits recipes so I have no idea where it originally came from except that someone called Ruth claimed it as her own. The use of the cream of tartar harks back to the days when baking powder wasn't readily available. I still use the cream of tartar/baking soda combination because I think it gives the cookies a unique taste and texture. If you're looking for cream of tartar in Germany, you'll have to visit the pharmacy and ask for Weinsteinpulver.

Ruth's Sugar Cookies

1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter
2 well-beaten eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
dash nutmeg (optional)

Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs and sifted dry ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for several hours before rolling thin on a lightly floured surface and cutting into desired shapes. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven until light golden. Let cool and decorate as desired.

Mr. M loooves Checkerboard Cookies. Me? Not so much. I call them You Do the Math Cookies because instructions like "divide dough in half, shape each half into a 7-inch square and cut each square into 9 3/4-inch strips" uses up a week's worth of brain cells, not to mention the 20-minute search for the elusive ruler with inches on it. No wonder I only make these once a year.

You can use any ol' gingerbread cookie recipe for the reindeer. I tried a new recipe this year and was not all that impressed so I won't write it down here. Gingerbread is a very personal thing, anyway. Some like it soft and puffy, others hard and chewy. And there's an art to getting just the right combination of spices, so get out there and experiment.

The vanilla crescents have been in my repertoire since 1986 when I found the recipe in a Christmas magazine and fell in love. I believe the ingredients are slightly different than the traditional Austrian Vanillekipferl, which can also be made with ground hazelnuts or walnuts and usually adds an egg to the dough.

These cookies are very easy to make and freeze wonderfully, but it's best to apply the chocolate decoration after they are thawed since it tends to fall off in the freezer and make a bit of a mess.

Vanilla Crescents (Family Circle Magazine, December 1986)

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup unsifted icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
Icing sugar and melted semi-sweet chocolate for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Beat together butter, sugar and vanilla in medium-sized bowl until well-mixed. Beat in ground almonds. Stir in flour until well-blended. Shape dough into ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 - 3 hours.

Using level measuring tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms to form a horseshoe shape about 3 in. long. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. When cool roll in icing sugar and decorate with melted chocolate. Makes about 4 dozen.

Hope I've inspired you to get baking!

Must go. My messy kitchen awaits...


At December 13, 2006 3:58 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

I am absolutely inspired to try this. I've since learned that our local organic store now sells spelt and I'm really curious to use that instead of regular flour.

Yes I'm thinking I'm turning on P's computer and printing these out now..

Great receipes! YUMMY!

I'm so glad you have old blogger too! We all didn't jump off the bridge with the followers. :)

At December 13, 2006 4:50 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those cookies look AMAZING!! I'm going to try it myself. PS. Thanks for the nice comment on my vlog. Really hope you come back.

At December 13, 2006 4:51 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those cookies look AMAZING!! I'm going to try it myself. PS. Thanks for the nice comment on my vlog. Really hope you come back.

At December 13, 2006 5:32 p.m., Blogger Ms Mac said...

The vanilla crescents read as though I'd like them a lot. Maybe have to give them a try!

We've been snacking lately on a German biccie which he calls a "Dirkel" I have no idea if that's even how you spell it, or if it's the proper German name (you know, with the Swiss and everything). Anway, Mr Mac's German colleagues have been buying them up in truck loads from the Alsi across the road because they're on the shelves in the lead up to Christmas only. They are quite lovely, I wondered if you know anything about them.

What are these German-Speaking people like with their Christmas cookies? I've never experienced anything like it. In Australia everyone's getting excited about their Christmas ham, in Scotland they're buying up booze like it's going to rot and in Switzerland my Hausfrau neighbours are baking biscuits as though their lives depended on it!

At December 13, 2006 5:39 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Those cookies look absolutely great! However, I'm afraid I won't be baking them this year... Unless I use a kitchen in Canada :)

At December 13, 2006 7:15 p.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

I'm hopeless at cookie baking. Frank doesn't like I'm pretty deprived this year.

Care to send some over? :-p

They look great and absolutely yummy!

At December 13, 2006 7:43 p.m., Blogger Ms Mac said...

I just found out that you spell that biccie "Tiggerl" in Swiss German. Probably doesn't help at all! ;-)

At December 13, 2006 8:47 p.m., Blogger christina said...

expat - I think they might be a bit heavier with spelt flour but it would be worth a try.

Beta is going to have to drag me kicking and screaming!

american in france - Thanks for dropping by and I'm looking forward to more funny vblogging.

ms mac - The vanilla crescents are lovely and so easy. It takes no time at all to form them and I guess you could just leave them in little blobs if you were lazy.

I've been thinking really hard but don't recognize "Tiggerl" at all - they may be a southern thing. What are they like?

Yes, the Haufrauen go nuts over cookies here as well.

canswiss - Oh no, you'll be having much too good of a time to bother with baking cookies!

elemm - But your baking always looks so good. I bet Frank would like anything you made.

At December 13, 2006 9:39 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on the Cream of Tarter. I thought I might have to wait until a friend from on base could get me some, but now I can try myself tomorrow! That just made my day! :-)

At December 13, 2006 9:43 p.m., Blogger christina said...

maria - Glad I could help! I usually bring a box of it back from vacation and it lasts a long time.

At December 13, 2006 11:52 p.m., Blogger Michelle said...

I wonder how many pounds I've gained just from reading your blog? You are making me regret that we will keep it just to 2 or 3 kinds of cookies this year. With just the two of us there would be too much cookie if I did my normal routine.

At December 14, 2006 12:12 a.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

I just read some of this to Donica and I think you've made her day (with pics) before surgery tomorrow. I think she needed a good laugh.

Is there an Anti-Beta Club that some of us are still in? I have tried to make a comment on a beta site all day and haven't been able to do it. So thank God we're still here!

At December 14, 2006 12:13 a.m., Blogger Mike B said...

The reindeer are just adorable. And the Cream of Tartar tip solves one of life's little mysteries. BTW, what do you do for molasses? I vaguely recall Zuckerrube being one suggestion ... (the Germans seem to look at molasses as being little more than an animal feed component).

At December 14, 2006 1:17 a.m., Blogger Dixie said...

Thank you for saying how to find cream of tartar here. I've been having it sent over from the States.

My cookie baking starts next week. B is crazy for snickerdoodles and sugar cookies.

At December 14, 2006 1:40 a.m., Anonymous lillian said...

wow.. I'm impressed!! sigh.. i might try those vanille ones.. I should manage to make them :-) Will let you know

At December 14, 2006 3:04 a.m., Anonymous Maribeth said...

I'm so glad you liked the Toffee Bars. They are my favorite!

At December 14, 2006 8:41 a.m., Blogger The Big Finn said...

God, I love Europe...

Why the heck does one have to go to a pharmacy to buy Weinsteinpulver? Does it have some kind of medicinal value?

At December 14, 2006 3:07 p.m., Blogger Pam said...

We have a big old bucket of Xmas cookies that husband brought from Austria but is that enough? No. Now we have to make our own vanillekipferl. Also, dunno if you eat schneehaubenkekse in Germany, but in Austria, we have to have those TOO. I can't believe you did all that work. Man on man.

At December 14, 2006 4:00 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Michelle - There can NEVER be too many cookies. But I know what you mean. I have three other people here wolfing them down so the damage to my figure will hopefully be kept to a minimun.

Ginnie - I'm glad I could put a smile on Donica's face. :-)

I never switch to anything "Beta" until all the bugs are worked out. I think they're going to switch us all over automatically soon, but I'm not looking forward to it.

mike b - The reindeer are my favourite. Yeah, for molasses I use what they call Zuckerrüben-Sirup which is usually found in the jam and honey section of the supermarket. They make a dark variety and also a light one that's similar to corn syrup. The brand I buy is called Original Grafschafter Goldsaft but I'm sure it varies from region to region.

Dixie - Men just love the sugar cookies, don't they? And I've never made snickerdoodles before but they always sound so fun.

lillian - Hope you like them, they're totally easy to make and always turn out right.

Maribeth - I didn't have the right size pan so I made them too thick, I think and had to cut them in smaller pieces, but everyone just loved them. The reminded me so much of Almond Roca.

TBF- Yep, gotta love Germany keeping the highly dangerous cream of tartar under lock and key. It used to be that way with baking soda as well when I first moved here 16 years ago. BUT around Christmas time it's not a problem to get either Hirshhornsalz - ammonium carbonate, or Pottasche - pottasium carbonate at most supermarkets since they're needed in a lot of German Christmas cookie recipes. Go figure. Must be a cultural thing. You can also only buy glycerine at the pharmacy, whereas you can freely buy enough herbal tea at the Drogerie to do yourself some serious damage.

Pam - Only one bucket? That'll never do! I had never heard of Schneehaubenkekse so I looked them up and found...your blog. :-) They sound absolutely delicious, as does that recipe for Linzer cookies. I was just looking for a good recipe for those yesterday 'cause I started thinking about my dad and Linzertorte has always been a favourite of his.

At December 14, 2006 6:32 p.m., Blogger mar said...

I definetely need more coffee to go with those yummy cookies, thanks for the recipes too :)

At December 14, 2006 11:17 p.m., Blogger Dixie said...

I used to bring baking soda with me as well from the States until I found Natron by accident one day while shopping...that's what I use now.

At December 15, 2006 9:22 a.m., Blogger christina said...

mar - You're welcome!

Dixie - Yeah, after a few years Natron seemed to suddenly be all over the place. Boy was I happy to finally find it.

At December 15, 2006 4:23 p.m., Blogger Angie said...

It will be a cold day in hell before I attempt to make those checkerboard cookies. Baking and math are two of the things that I'm worst at, so imagine the horror.

But toffee bars and the rest, those have potential! Your cookie spread looks gorgeous. I'm coming to live with you. No, really. I am.

At December 15, 2006 4:25 p.m., Blogger Angie said...

P.S. You've never made snickerdoodles? They're so fun, even a bad chef (me) can do it! Except at my house, we call them snickernoodles... My mom's recipe was handwritten by my uncle from his 5th grade home ec class, and that's what he wrote at the top. (She never throws anything away.)

At December 15, 2006 10:43 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Angie - The toffee bars are REALLY easy, even easier than "Snickernoodles". Heh. I have so many old recipes written down on scraps of paper and I just can't make myself re-copy them because of the sentimental value.

OK you can come live with us. We'll build on an extra wing.

At December 16, 2006 3:15 a.m., Blogger Rositta said...

Two things I can't do in life, make checkerboard cookies and master that damm cookie press (I give up on it) otherwise I'm a pretty decent baker.

I have about 20 dozen cookies to make
this week (yup, you read that right), I supply 7 neighbours with Christmas bags stuffed with homemade cookies. Stupid tradition (just kidding) I started when we moved to this house 7 years ago. Does pay off in the end though, it's a great neighbourhood.-)

At December 17, 2006 4:07 p.m., Blogger lizardek said...

OOOH!! thank you for the Vanilla crescent recipe!! I'm so trying that one this year!


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