My “twelve cookies of Christmas” series continues with one of my favourites, and again, there is a bit of a German theme going on here.
Today, we are making Zimtsterne (German cinnamon stars). I absolutely adore these ones, and they always prove very, very popular. How do I know this? I gave a box of them as a gift to a friend a couple of years ago, and her house-guest found and ate most of them. But hey, I can’t blame her, they are incredibly more-ish.
While they undoubtedly look impressive, they are relatively straightforward to make, with the only really tricky bit being perfecting the rolling of the dough, cutting the cookies and glazing them. The dough has lots of fresh ground almonds and sugar, flavoured with cinnamon, orange zest and just a touch of honey. The resulting cookies are crisp at the edges, but soft and chewy in the middle, and topped with a crisp sugary icing, which turns a gentle light golden colour in the oven. If you leave them out for a couple of days, they will get softer and even more chewy.
I like to make my Zimtsterne using whole almonds that I grind at home, as I think the flavour is better than using pre-ground nuts, and the brown speckling from the skin looks quite nice in the finished product. The nut mixture can also be tweaked a little, with a 50/50 mix of almonds and hazelnuts, or even all hazelnuts if that’s what floats your boat. You can also miss out the orange if you want, but I think this adds a pleasant extra aromatic note.
Finally, these are also wheat/gluten-free and contain no milk products. Not something that is usually top of my worry list, but it proved to be very helpful at the weekend – I had Christmas drinks where two guest were, in turn, gluten intolerant and dairy intolerant. Lucky I had these to serve. That, and the Germans in the room also seemed to be suitably impressed. Whew!
To make Zimtsterne (makes around 50)*
For the dough:
• 2 egg whites
• 500g unskinned almonds, finely ground(**)
• 300g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons acacia honey
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• zest of 1 orange
For the glaze:
• 1 egg white
• 100g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a metal tray with baking paper and grease with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, lightly whip the egg whites until just frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. The mixture might seem dry at first, but keep going (eventually using your hands) and it will come together into a soft dough.
Sprinkle the kitchen worktop generously with more icing sugar, and roll out portions of the dough to 1cm thickness. Cut out star shapes with a cutter and place the baking sheet. Make sure there is sufficient icing sugar under the dough to stop it sticking to the worktop (this I know from experience!).
Next make the glaze: whisk the egg white until just frothy, then add the icing sugar and mix until it is thick and syrupy. Spread thinly on the top of the stars (using the back of a teaspoon or a brush). Aim just to cover the tops, you will need a thinner layer than you think. If you add too much, it will bubble and blister, rather than forming a smooth surface.
Bake the stars for 10-15 minutes until the edges of icing are just starting to colour.
Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to sit for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
(*) Recipe can be easily halved, results are equally good.
(**) If you are grinding almonds, ideally use a coffee grinder to reduce them to a fine meal. If the almonds/nuts are too coarse, the stars will be too moist and lose their shape in the oven. If the dough seems very sticky, add most ground nuts and icing sugar.