{4} Basler Brunsli

The fourth instalment of our festive baking tour takes us to the northern Swiss city of Basel. This year I seem to have delved rather deeply into Swiss Christmas traditions. I’d love to say that this was because I had been doing lots of detailed research, but in reality, I asked my Swiss friend for some Christmas tips, and one of them was a family recipe for these tasty little spiced chocolate-and-nut creations.

Basler Brunsli are a very easy cookie to make – made with ground nuts and sugar, flavoured with cocoa and chocolate and spiced with cinnamon and cloves. And basically…wow! So good that they really should not be so easy to make. These are simply amazing! They are sometimes referred to as “traditional Swiss brownies” but I think they are so much more interesting than that. This is not just a brownie…this is a luxuriously warm and spicy hug of Alpine wintery cheer. They have a chewy, slightly macaroon-like quality, with a delicious note of dark chocolate enhanced by the spices. They taste rich, but are also incredibly more-ish. I think these would definitely be a big hit at any party, and they also look very striking.

In the original recipe that I got, you only need to add cocoa powder, but I saw a lot of recipes that also had grated dark chocolate. I figured that when it comes to all things chocolate, more is more, so I added some chocolate in addition to the cocoa. My thinking went that the cocoa would give them a nice colour, and the chocolate would melt during cooking to really ramp up the flavour. I’m happy to report that this seemed to work like a charm.

Now, there is was one thing with the recipe that did niggle with me just a little – it calls for a Messerspitze of ground cloves, as does pretty much every other recipe that I saw. I take this to mean as much as goes on the point of a knife. I mean…really…how is that a measurement that you can work with? I’m exasperated enough when it comes to using American cups, so this just annoys me! It never seems like enough to add a real flavour if it really is just enough to fit on the tip of a knife. Maybe in German-speaking places it actually means a fixed amount, like half a teaspoon? Anyway, I experimented here and went with a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves. I tend to like things very heavily spiced, so this is something that you should just trust to your own tastes. It is not a spice that everyone loves, but I feel that clove is a flavour that is under-appreciated and which is really delicious with chocolate. My view? A Messerspitze would not be enough!

I love that these cookies are so quick and easy to make. There is no need to leave the mixture to sit overnight as with so many Germanic spiced bakes, and when you roll them out then keep their shape nicely during baking. They also have the benefit in being gluten-free, so a great cookie to have in the repertoire. If you wanted to play around with the flavour, it might be nice to use hazelnuts instead of some or all of the almonds, and perhaps sandwich two of them together with Nutella. You could also play with the spices, or add orange zest or switch the Kirsch for flavoured liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Amaretto, if you can accept that you’re probably starting to get rather far from the authentic Swiss recipe.

After I made my version of Basler Brunsli, I asked my Swiss friend for her verdict. She tried one, and confirmed they were good. Not as good as my mother’s, obviously. And you know what? I’ll take that complement. Only fair that my first attempt were not be as good as her mother’s. It’s only natural! And she clarified that I’d gotten the sugar decoration wrong. You should dip the cutters in the sugar, and then cut out the shapes to add some sparkle at the edges, rather than covering the tops. She didn’t thing it looked bad or tasted strange. Just not like mum makes them. Fair enough!

To make Basler Brunsli (makes around 50 cookies):

• 200g ground almonds, plus extra for rolling
• 200g icing sugar
• 40g finely grated dark chocolate
• 40g cocoa powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 large egg whites
• 2-3 teaspoons Kirsch or rum
• granulated sugar, for cutting out shapes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the ground almonds, icing sugar, grated chocolate, cocoa powder and spices in a bowl and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy. We’re not trying to get whipped egg whites, so go easy!

4. Add all the egg white and the Kirsch or rum (a teaspoon at a time), to the dry ingredients. Mix well until it comes together to a soft dough that forms a ball. If the mixture is dry then add more Kirsch or rum, a teaspoon at a time, until it comes together. If the mix is too wet, add more ground almonds and icing sugar.

5. Sprinkle some more ground almonds on the worktop, and roll out the dough to 1cm thickness. Dip the edges of your cookie cutters in granulated sugar before you cut each cookie (of course, it won’t stick for cutting the first cookie). Cut out cookies in whatever shape you like.

6. Transfer the cut out cookies to the baking sheet. Bake for around 6 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool.


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

7 responses to “{4} Basler Brunsli

  1. Great ingredients, would love to taste these!

  2. Rebecka

    I haven’t baked as much this holiday season as I usually do, due to being away for a month for classes and such. But of course I have to make some stuff! I think I’ll have to skip sirupsnipper, which I have considered a new staple at Christmas after I found your recipe a couple of years ago, cause it’s just too much and mum is not a big fan. But, each year I tend to want to try something new and this recipe seems easy and different, so I think it shall have to be it! I doubt my parents stock Kirsch though (and I don’t drink so I have nothing), but I can probably find something else. Amaretto does sound like a nice idea.

    As for Messerspitz… in Swedish we have an old fashioned measurement called “knivsudd” (literally “knive’s point”). I looked it up and it’s supposed to be approximately 0.15 ml. But yeah, that sounds like nothing when combined with chocolate! I’d probably go with a pinch, or maybe 1 ml (as that’s a normal Swedish baking measurement , which I personally never really use. When something calls for that, translated it’s a “spice measure”, I just add a lil bit and hope for the best)

    • Wow, love to hear that you’re making sirupsnipper. It does make a lot – I find that it is worth putting them back in the oven to dry out and crisp up again as they can get soft after a while.

      If you don’t have the Kirsch, you could use pretty much any alcohol you fancy. Brown rum is probably a good bet too – I’ve been drinking Don Papa rum from the Philippines, which is great in baked goods. It is mildly spicy with a hint of vanilla.

      • Rebecka

        I actually find that they keep really well! They’ve stayed crispy for weeks for me, which speaks to a great recipe. Dad really likes them too, he even asked me about “those cookies with almonds on them”.

        I’ve just finished making these! We decided to go for Cointreau instead of Kirsch. It of course changed the flavour a bit, but it works really well. A hint of orange in chocolate is always nice, and it pairs well with the almonds too.

        But I noticed, you write teaspoons for the kirsch in the ingredient list, but tablespoons in the instructions. I gather you meant teaspoons cause I used a little more than one tablespoon and the dough was way too gooey. And since one tbsp is three teaspoons… yeah. But I made it work with some more sugar and almonds. Oh also! It felt like way too many almonds to grind in my mum’s tiny hand grinder, so I decided to try making ground almonds in a small blender/cutter thing with half of the almonds. Sure, it works alright, but I think it made the almonds a bit too coarse which probably meant they didn’t deal with the moisture as well. I suppose it made the cookies a bit more rustic too. But in the end I had some real tasty cookies! The whole family seem to like them too.

        • Hi Rebecka – sorry about that, I’ve updated the recipe to say teaspoons, and to add just one teaspoon at a time. Glad you managed to sort them out and get a good batch of cookies.

          I use ground almonds from the store – they’re really easy to buy in the UK, but I get the impression that ground nuts are not widely sold everywhere. I keep seeing American recipes that say you can buy almond meal “at the health food store”! I’ve tried grinding nuts at home, but it is so easy to get the to turn oily, but I don’t get that problem with bought ground nuts. Otherwise, I chop nuts by hand coarsely, then grind them with sugar, which gets more of a powder and prevents too much oil leaking out.

          • Rebecka

            I was careless too, should’ve gone for the teaspoon by teaspoon approach. But it worked out in the end so all is good!

            I haven’t actually looked for ground almonds here. I think maybe I could find almond meal (maybe in the gluten free section?), but that sounds TOO fine to me. More like something for fine French macarons. Mum’s hand grinder is perfect for small batches of ground nuts and almonds. It creates a really fluffy pile of finely shredded almonds with no risk of oil. It’s really more of a grater but shaped like a short tube on top of which you press your almonds and then turn the grater tube thing. I actually ended up grating the chocolate in the same thing cause I got tired of doing it on the proper grater. I googled to see if I could find a picture and almost all of the hits are of smilar contraptions but ones that you fasted to the edge of your table or something. I had to deal with a handheld version like the one on the left here: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-gsJFJaekmJY/UGVcvDd063I/AAAAAAAAH2E/UdViEK4Ey6E/s1600/mandelkvarn1.jpg Meaning only a small amount of almonds each time and a need to use my left hand to press them against the grater. But worth it in the end I think!

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