Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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...

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At December 24, 2008 12:47 a.m., Blogger Michelle said...

Wow! Gorgeous cookies as always...its fun when everyone is eating them as they come out of the oven - it means they can't wait!

At December 24, 2008 1:09 a.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Yummy! Those cookies do look incredible!!! I think of you every time I pass the German Bakery down the street. I often wonder how traditional that bakery really is. It's also 2 away from a Dutch bakery..

They are a bit too pricey so it's definitely a special occasion treat if I go there!

By the way, I ate lunch in Langford today and WOW - how much snow.....

At December 24, 2008 1:12 a.m., Blogger Maribeth said...

Those all look great. This year I decided not to bake. I knew if I baked I would eat and that is not a good thing for me to do. I'll make a nice apple pie for Christmas dessert though.

At December 24, 2008 4:08 a.m., Blogger Pam said...

J is nutty, nutty, I tellya, for kipferl. We made a huge batch of them the year before last - he keeps threatening to try again. Your recipe is in a format we can use, rather than that converted from his mom's metric scribblings that we kind of faked into North American measurements.

Yum. And best to your crew for the holidays!

At December 24, 2008 8:19 a.m., Blogger Yelli said...

These are beautiful! If this is scaled back, I have a lot of catching up to do!

At December 24, 2008 10:41 a.m., Blogger kate said...

Wow, you are quite the artist! This year I found those gingerbread star cookies at a Lidl supermarket and we've been working our way through them quite happily. After three failed attempts at gingerbread (it tasted fine, but the top stuck to the Bundt loaf pan each time so not up to gifting standards)I find myself with no time (and not much inclination) to do any more baking this year. But, Christmas vacation is very long and before it's through I'm sure we will do some gingerbread men and other stuff...

At December 24, 2008 11:41 a.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Great looking cookies! Wishing you and the family a very merry Christmas :)

At December 24, 2008 4:02 p.m., Blogger Angie said...

Beautiful! I love them!

I have a Yankee Candle called "Christmas Cookie." The first time I lit it a couple years ago, Shane came in and said (with a most hopeful look), "You're baking cookies?!" I had to tell him no... poor guy! (We made up for it this year -- cookies galore!) I don't dare show him your pictures.

Merry Christmas to you and yours! :)

At December 24, 2008 4:55 p.m., Blogger Bek said...

Vanillekipferl sind meine Lieblingskekse. Ohne die kein Weihnachten:) Ich habe sie allerdings ganz "normal" gemacht und nicht so kunstvoll verziert wie du.
Ich wuensche dir und deiner Familie ein frohes Weihnachtsfest.

At December 24, 2008 5:34 p.m., Blogger Regina said...

Everything looks soo yummy (as usual)! You are so creative!

I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas!

At December 24, 2008 5:47 p.m., Blogger Charlotte said...

Lovely cookies, and have a wonderful Christmas!

At December 24, 2008 5:59 p.m., Blogger Rositta said...

I'm up to my elbows in cookie dough and bread dough from lovely freezing Calgary. Your look a lot lovely than mine will but hopefully they'll taste good. Merry Christmas Christina to you and your family...ciao

At December 25, 2008 3:45 a.m., Blogger hexe said...

What a lot of work - I hope the men are duly appreciative of your culinary greatness. Hope you and your family have a wonderful (and relaxing!) holiday.

At December 25, 2008 8:35 a.m., Anonymous lillian said...

I am way to lazy to do that. Could I pay you to bake for me ? oh wait.. we live to far away.. oh well :-)
Merry Christmas! Hope its not too busy !

At December 25, 2008 6:23 p.m., Anonymous honeypiehorse said...

My goodness. I bet my mother in law would prefer to have you as a daughter in law. Merry Christmas!

At December 25, 2008 7:28 p.m., Blogger Maribeth said...

May you be blessed this Christmas and the year ahead with health, happiness and peace!
Much love,

At December 25, 2008 11:20 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Michelle - Thanks! They polished off the last of them today.

Expat - I always wonder why they make you pay more when they say it's 'German' or 'Dutch' or something. :-)

Maribeth - I'm in luck (well, not really!)since I have a cold and my appetite isn't up to its usual standards! :-)

Pam - I remember you guys making all those cookies! This recipe is pretty foolproof and the dough is very forgiving.

Yelli - Well, everything but the cookies got scaled back. Making them is kind of like therapy for me.

kate - Oh, there's definitely time for more cookies - who says they have to be done before Christmas. I like gingerbread men all year round, they're so cute.

CanSwiss - Merry Christmas to you and OrangeX too!

Angie - Merry Christmas! Yes, for him to stick around he needs REAL cookies. You are on the right track my dear.

Bek - Auch dir eine frohes Fest! Die Kipferl schmecken immer lecker, egal wie die aussehen, finde ich.

Regina - Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Charlotte - Thank you, my dear.

Rositta - If they're made with love, they always taste good! Hope you're not too snowed in in Calgary.

hexe - These were pretty easy, actually, once I got going. Hope you had a great holiday too!

lillian - I think they'd get all squished in the mail! :-) Happy holidays!

honeypiehorse - Not if she saw the state of my house! Merry Christmas!

maribeth - Merry Christmas, my friend!

At December 29, 2008 7:04 a.m., Blogger Berlinbound said...

Your cookies look terrific!

At January 07, 2009 4:46 p.m., Anonymous Anna said...

Love the little Candle Cookie...your edible art! I love to do crafty things with my nieces and nephews, those are perfect. Merry Christmas to You and Yours.


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