Today’s festive item is a regional German cookie associated with the town of Dettelbach in northwestern Bavaria. And they come with a delightfully whimsical origin story. Back when Dettelbach was a hotspot on the pilgrim trail, a local baker called Urban Degen sought to capitalise on all that passing trade. He created a spiced sweet, and derived the name from the German word for nutmeg (Muskat). Apparently Herr Degen was rather vain, and felt himself to be the best-dressed baker in town. As a tribute to himself, he shaped his sweets into the form of a bow tie.
The cookies themselves are fairly dry and crunchy, which is often the case with traditional bakes that needed to keep for extended periods. They are heavily spiced, with a lot of nutmeg. Various different versions do exist, with a number of bakers in the town of Dettelbach selling versions based on their own secret recipes. I have used a recipe from the excellent site of Milk and Hanni which includes spices, walnuts and candied peel. I absolutely love them – spiced, fruity, crunchy and a really interesting bake with gives you the sense of something with a bit of history to it. They also keep very well in an airtight jar, so good to have on hand for your morning coffee or tea in the afternoon.
I have to confess when I first came across these, the shape did not scream “bow tie” to me. I thought they looked more like bunches of wheat which had been bound in the middle. I did hunt high and low for the right mould, but the only one I could find was on Etsy and had been sold some time ago. My search for an exact match was otherwise fruitless. Either this is the must-have kitchen accessory for 2021, or they are just really hard to track down.
But fear ye not – I was able to buy a wooden shell mould which did the trick just as well. If you want to have a go and are struggling, a madeleine pan may work, or you an just form shapes freehand. They will taste as good, and it can be a good creative outlet on dark evenings.
The dough is really easy to make, with the art being in making the shapes. There is no fat in the recipe, so the dough is rather sticky. I tried using flour and icing sugar in the mould, but the cookies kept getting stuck (meaning I had to clean the mould, which delayed proceedings). It turns out the easy fix was to roll a ball of dough, put it on the tray, cover in cling film, then press the mould on top. Just like that – perfect little scallop shapes! They might not be bow ties, but I still think they look adorable.
One of the features of muskaziner is that when they bake, they puff up and develop “feet” similar to macarons. After shaping, it is essential to leave the surface to dry out (in this case, overnight) so that in the oven, all the lift in the cookie is directed downwards. It is a similar approach to making highly decorated German Springerle or Swiss Chräbeli.
To make Muskazinen (makes around 60 cookies), recipe by Milk and Hanni
• 250g plain flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 75g finely chopped walnuts
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons mixed spice
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 40g candied citrus peel
• 2 medium eggs
• 200g white caster sugar
1. Mix the flour and baking power. Set to one side.
2. Finely chop the walnuts, and then the candied peel. Put in a bowl with the spices and mix well. Set aside.
3. Put the eggs and sugar into a large bowl. Beat for at least 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is pale and fluffy.
4. Add the nut-spice mixture and stir. Fold in the flour to form a dough.
5. Pinch off portions of the mixture and shape (freehand or using a mould). Place on sheets of greaseproof paper.
6. Leave the sheets of cookies to dry at room temperature overnight.
7. To bake, pre-heat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Bake the cookies for around 8 minutes until risen and lightly browned.