I’ve had to do some research as to why cinnamon is such a Christmas-y spice. My house at this time of year almost always has a lingering cinnamon aroma, and most of our German baking, or even cooking, uses cinnamon quite generously.
It seems that its original use can be traced back to medieval times. Crusaders would bring back exotic spices from the East, and – as the West has so often done is our history – they blended it into their own traditions as a sign of wealth and prosperity. The ancient world used cinnamon with a lot less worship, as it grew so abundantly in regions like Sri Lanks, India, and Bangladesh, but as soon as it entered the frosty homes of the Western Europeans, it soon became a form of praise to their religion, and sign of wealth.
Other sources have said it was a much cheaper way to preserve cured meats than with salt, or that it became a way to make the little meat (of low quality) that people had in those days taste a little better. Perhaps also true, but a lot less interesting than the former research, so let’s stick to that one!
As it is no longer a sign of wealth, sitting on par with almost every other spice in the shops, I’ll say that cinnamon in our household is used as the spice of the gods. Now we’re tapping into the ancient civilisations of Egypt, who offered cinnamon to their deities, and burnt cinnamon in their temples. We don’t burn it, we cook with it, and rather than a temple, we just use our kitchen – that still works, right?
These cookies are a particular favourite, though. If we only have the chance to make one variety of German Christmas cookie, then it’s this one. They are so full of flavour, and are so decadent that – although rich – you can guzzle down quite a few without realising it, especially with a cup of coffee.
This recipe does call for something called Vanillazucker, which I haven’t yet found in South Africa. I doubt you’ll find it in your own country either, unless you have a German grocer nearby. You can probably order it online, mind you, but I wouldn’t know where to look. We usually just bring some packets back with us when we go to Germany, but it’s easy enough to just use simple sugar with a dash of vanilla essense, or leave a vanilla pod in your sugar jar for a few days before making these. Both work fine.
The longest part of these is brushing the tops with the egg white mixture, so give yourself enough time to make these. You’ll probably need an hour in total, minus the baking, but you get quicker with practice so I’d suggest making two or three batches because obviously you want to improve and there’s no such thing as “too many Christmas cookies” anyway.
The other great thing, of course, is that they are both dairy-free AND gluten-free! I still marvel at how great they taste, despite them sounding like they don’t have anything worth eating them, haha. But their bulk is made of ground almonds instead of flour, and the eggs bind them together. This does mean they can cost a little more than usual, depending on where you live and how much almonds cost, but it is Christmas and you do get quite a decent sized batch out of the amount you use, so it’s really not that bad.
What else do I need to tell you before the recipe? Oh yes: you’ll see in the picture at the top that I used 60% Stroh rum in this recipe. This was a first-time for me, and we only have this incredibly strong and vicious rum as leftover from our Feuerzangenbowle night (like German glühwein, but a million times better). Usually we use a normal white rum, but this batch of cookies tasted incredible because the rum was so much stronger for the volume you add in the recipe. The alcohol bakes out, so its really just the taste, and if you can afford the stronger rum then I would 100% recommend using it! Both rums work better, but the extra kick in flavour is worth it – trust me!
Zimtsterne \\ Cinnamon stars
Makes 24 cookies (depending on how muh dough you eat, haha)
3 egg whites
200g icing sugar (plus some for dusting
200g ground almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp rum (see notes)
1 packet vanilla sugar (see notes)
⦁ Whip the egg whites until stiff, and add the icing sugar bit-by-bit, mixing with the hand mixer as you do.
⦁ Take a little less than half a cup of the mixture out, and set aside (this will be what you brush the stars with later).
⦁ Add the almonds, rum, cinnamon, and vanilla sugar, and very carefully, gently, and slowly fold the mixture together, until you get a stcky dough.
⦁ Dust a working surface with icing sugar, butter a tray and dust it with flour, and preheat your oven to 140 degrees celcius.
⦁ Scrape the sticky dough out of the bowl with icing sugar dusted hands, and roll into a ball in your hands. Dust your rolling pin as well, and begin rolling out the dough to a 1/2cm thickness.
⦁ Dust your star shape with icing sugar as well, and press out stars, lining them onto the tray as you go with a 1cm distance between them.
⦁ Continue gathering and re-rolling your dough, dusting as you go, until you can’t press out ay more stars. Then take a brush and paint the egg white mixture onto them.
⦁ Bake for 30-40 minutes in the oven, or as soon as the white topping starts changing colour. They should still be slightly sticky inside.