up to my elbows in icing sugar
They say the best way for a woman to attract a man is to dab a little vanilla behind her ears. I don't know if that's true, I just know that the men in my house can't stay away from the Christmas cookies this year.
I decided to go all German-y this Christmas and bake a few traditional cookies with my own twist.
First off are the vanilla cresents I've been making for the past 22 years.
These are called Vanillekipferl in German and actually originated in Austria. You can be as creative as you like with these. I used ground blanched almonds for the middle row and rolled them in vanilla sugar while they were still warm. The two outer rows were made with ground almonds with the skins left on. I think the brown speckles go nicely with the dark chocolate decorations.
Shaping these takes a bit of time, but you can get them done pretty quickly if you do them assembly line style and use a level measuring tablespoon as your guide. Here, I dug the recipe out of my archives so you don't have to.
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
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.
Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) Using level measuring tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms to about 3 in. long and bend to form a horseshoe shape. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. When cool roll in icing sugar and decorate with melted chocolate if desired. Makes about 3 dozen.
Next up we have Lebkuchen or Honigkuchen, a kind of soft gingerbread cookie. I made these on a baking sheet and cut them into squares. Half of them were iced with a lemon juice and icing sugar glaze and the other half with dark chocolate sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Very festive, no?
Most recipes of this type call for Hirschhornsalz (Ammonium Carbonate or Baker's ammonia) and Pottasche (Pottassium Carbonate), leavening agents which were used before baking powder was widely available. When using either of these chemicals, the dough needs to be mixed very carefully and left to rest for a couple of days before baking. The resulting cookies have a unique flavour and a long shelf life.
The Lebkuchen-Gewürz you see above is a special mixture of spices usually sold only at this time of year. This one is made up of cinnamon, orange rind, ground coriander, lemon rind, star anis, fennel, mace, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. Whew! I found it to be an aquired taste and next time I'd probably tweak it a bit or make up my own mix.
Although I've used Hirshhornsalz and Pottasche in recipes before and bought both again this year, I happened upon a much faster and easier recipe calling for baking powder and decided to try that instead. The cookies came out fine are are improving with age as the flavours blend. The recipe is here in German.
Spitzbuben are cutout cookies with a jam centre, usually red currant or apricot. Any firm sugar cookie recipe will do for these. I made stars and angels this year.
And finally we have some no-bake craftiness that anyone can do. Anyone with the right cookies, that is.
These little 'candles' are immensely popular at grade school Christmas craft afternoons. All you need is a star shaped chocolate covered gingerbread cookie, a rolled wafer cookie and a blanched almond. Icing sugar and water 'glue' holds everything together and there you go - edible art!
We're having a very laid back Christmas this year. I may do some more baking, I may not. Stay tuned...