Can we talk about Christmas cookies?
Can we, please?
Because this is the time of the year I can’t resist any longer. I must pull out the cookie cutter molds from the deepest angle of my kitchen cupboard and kick-off the traditional holiday season baking spree.
In Germany, it’s a tradition to bake Christmas cookies prior to the advent period which starts on the fourth weekend prior to Christmas. This means they must last four to five weeks till Christmas – and by this I mean there needs to be a big enough quantity of cookies to be devoured over a period of four to five weeks!
That’s why if you bake Christmas cookies in Germany you bake lots of them. Needless to say, each single food magazine on display from end October features loads of classic and new varieties of festive cookies and sweets.
In spite of whatever fancy new cookies and sweets are en vogue each year, I will always start making the classics. My favorites are two of the most simple traditional German Christmas cookie recipes: plain butter cookies and nut cookies. I am not sure about the origin of the recipe transcripts in my possession, only that they have been passed down in my family over a couple of generations.
History of German Christmas cookies
The origin of Christmas cookies can be traced back to the monasteries of the Middle Age. Being wealthy places, they could afford backing with spices which are important ingredients in many traditional Christmas cookie recipes and at the time were expensive.
Today, a variety of famous historic Christmas cookies exists with different locations standing for a different type of cake, biscuit or cookie.
The earliest known true Christmas recipe is the Christmas Stollen (a kind of fruitcake) originating from Dresden. Meanwhile the famous Lebkuchen, a sort a sort of gingerbread cookie originating in Nuremberg became popular in 1487 when Emperor Friedrich III distributed it to the children of Nuremberg.
Today some of the well-known German Christmas cookies even have a protected geographical status which means they can only be given a certain name when they are actually made in a defined location. This includes the Nuremberg Lebkuchen or the slightly different type of Lebkuchen called Aachener Printen (from the city of Aachen) which are sweetened with sugar beet syrup instead of honey.
However, it took until the 19th century before the general public started to make Christmas cookies at home. From this time onwards, a large range of different Christmas cookie recipes started to emerge and most families still have some old recipes handed down over the generations.
Two classic German Christmas cookie recipes made at home
Among the many types of Christmas cookies, butter cookies are likely the most widespread German Christmas cookie type made at home. That said, what a ‘butter cookie’ is can be somewhat differ since each family will use their own typical family recipe.
The red line with this type of cookie is rolling out the dough and then cutting cookies in the shape of Christmas images like angels, stars or reindeer.
The second type of Christmas cookie on my annual Christmas baking list is spritz cookies (Spritzgebäck); at least that’s how they are called in my family even though they are quite different from the official Spritzgebäck sold in Germany.
German Spritzgebäck for Christmas
My absolute favourite Christmas cookie and one I never fail to make each year regardless of how limited my time might be.
Using our own family recipe, they are actually very quick and easy to prepare.
The only thing you need is a meat grinder. I know, sounds odd but bear with me.
250 g unsalted butter
150 g sugar
2 bags vanillin sugar
600 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100 g hazelnuts, grounded
2 large eggs
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until you obtain a homogenous dough which can take up to 10 minutes. If the dough still does not sticks neatly together after this time, divide into smaller portions and kneed with your hands until well combined.
Fit out the meat grinder with a cookie cutter device.
Divide the dough into smaller portions and put into the meat grinder with cookie attachment.
Cookies should be around 5-6 cm long.
Place on a baking sheet about 1 cm from each other.
Heat oven at 170°C. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes. The cookies should be a light golden brown. Take out from the oven and let cool for about a minute then put cookies aside for cooling completely.
German Butterplätzen recipe for Christmas
Number two on my favourite Christmas cookies are the very classic butter cookies.
In Germany as a whole, these cookies are perhaps the favourite type of Christmas cookie to make at home. Especially families with children will have these firmly on their list each year, as you will have a hard time finding a kid that will not love to roll out the dough and cutting out the cookies, which normally includes eating the dough leftover around the cookie cutters!
250 g unsalted butter
250 g sugar
1 bag vanillin sugar
500 g all-purpose flour
1/2 bag baking powder
3 -4 egg yolks and some milk for garnishing
Additional: cookie cutters
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until you obtain a homogenous dough.
Divide dough into 2 -3 larger portions, cover with some flour and form into balls. In the process, use as much flour to form the dough without it to stick to your fingers.
Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough set in a cool environment (ideally not in the fridge but if you do not have another option like a cool cellar, take out of the fridge about one hour before cutting out the cookies) for a couple of hours or overnight to let it obtain an optimal condition to be rolled out.
Divide dough into smaller parts and roll out the dough about 5-6 mm thick. Cut with cookie cutters in various shapes.
Grease a baking sheet with abundant butter and place cookies about 1 cm apart from each other.
Whisk together the egg yolks with a shot of milk until homogenous. With a baking brush apply the egg-milk mix on the cookies.
Heat oven to 170°C. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack and bake for about 20 minutes. The cookies should be a light golden brown. Take out from the oven and let cool for about a minute then put cookies aside for cooling completely.
Are you making Christmas cookies at home? What is your favourite type?