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Christmas Baking! Zimtsterne

December 7, 2010

Esslingen

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It always throws people for a loop when I mention that all of my extended family live in Germany. (Asians! They live everywhere!). When my brother and I were growing up, we spent many a Christmas in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, visiting our aunts, uncles and grandma during the summer holidays.

So despite being Australian born and bred, my memories of Christmas eats are more likely to involve stollen, glühwein, lebkuchen and eating wurst at the weihnachstmärkte, than shrimp on the illustrious bbq.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been back… and this year I’ve been feeling homesick for German Christmas, a huge part of which is baking Plätzchen – Christmas cookies! They become completely ubiquitous around Christmastime. People often give handmade cookies as gifts (which is awesome because then you get to taste all the different secret family recipes!), and there are books and books dedicated to baking the many varieties of Plätzchen. (If anyone knows of a good english translated book, I’d love to get my hands on one.)

So on Sunday my friend Beanie and I decided to bake some gingerbread, and some zimtsterne – cinnamon stars, one of my favourite Plätzchen.

We used these two recipes – one from Notebook magazine for Gingerbread Snowflakes and Stars, and one from Epicurious for Zimtsterne. We doubled the quantities of both recipes to get the amount we ended up with.

First the Zimtsterne:

Unfortunately Beanie’s local Woolies didn’t stock hazelnut meal, though almond meal was in abundance. I’ve seen some recipes on the internet use almond meal, or a mixture of both – but the recipe I was taught by a German frau only used hazelnut, so I’ll stick to what I know. So we bought whole hazelnuts instead.

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Blitzing the whole hazelnuts to make hazelnut meal

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Fresh hazelnut meal! Probably even better than the packet kind

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Adding cinnamon and plenty of lemon zest

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Whipping the meringue using Beanie’s mum’s glorious Kitchen Aid

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The recipe calls for the egg mixture to be whipped for 8 minutes! A really stiff and glossy meringue

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Folding the egg whites and hazelnut meal

The recipe for Zimtsterne is simple, but the method is always a little bit tricky. The dough is basically a mixture of hazelnut meal and meringue, and is incredibly sticky to work with. A trick I learnt to make the dough easier to handle is to chill it in the fridge for a few hours, and then roll it out gently between two pieces of cling film dusted with plenty of icing sugar:

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Roll it out to about 1.5cm in thickness, and remove the top layer of cling film. Don’t roll it too thin, otherwise you wont get the nice chewy texture. Now it should be ready to cut! I used Japanese vegetable cutters, but ideally use a 1-inch star cutter to make the cute little cookies. You don’t want to make them too big, otherwise they wont cook properly in the oven before the meringue topping starts to brown.

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The mixture is still incredibly sticky, so having a bowl of hot water on hand to rinse your cutters is a good idea. But make sure you dry it before using it again, otherwise that just makes it worse!

After that, it’s just a matter of icing the cookies with some of the reserved meringue. A bit fiddly, but they look so good once they’re done!

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Covered in meringue

The recipe says to bake them without the meringue top for 10-12 minutes at 350ºF, and then for another 5 minutes with the meringue on. But because I prefer mini-size zimtsterne, I found it sufficient to bake them just once at 180ºC for 8 minutes. They’ll be incredibly soft when you take them out of the oven – but if you wait for them to cool, they’ll harden up. Yum yum. The meringue goes crispy on top, but they’re still chewy on the inside. If you overbake them, I’ve heard you can keep them in an airtight container with a slice of apple for a few days (!) for them to soften. Never tried that though.

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Finished zimtsterne!

… stay tuned for gingerbread mania

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 10:54 pm

    Those cute little star look so adorable. They sounds sweet and yummy 🙂 I love your photographs…they are stunning 🙂

    • December 14, 2010 6:46 pm

      Thanks Tes!! 🙂 I think people usually make the stars with a slightly larger cookie cutter, but I really love the look of the mini cookies! Bite size!

  2. December 8, 2010 2:42 am

    Great to find someone else who loves Zimtsterne. My german friend Monika brings them back from Germany for me but its often after Christmas and I want offer them to family and friends over the holidays. I tried to make my own and they came out very hard and slightly bitter (not sure why that was). You are right about not being able to get hold of ground hazelnuts easily. I grind my own. A little trick I learnt when working in restaurant is to add a little bit of flour to the hazelnuts it helps to grind them more eavenly. I shall have a go with this Epicurious recipe and hope that mine look as good as yours. Happy Baking.

    • December 14, 2010 6:48 pm

      A lot of recipes I found called for half almond and half hazelnut meal – maybe that mixture might be less bitter!

      I didn’t find the zimtsterne I made to be particularly bitter, but perhaps we were lucky to get sweet hazelnuts.

  3. December 8, 2010 2:10 pm

    They look so cute! ^_^

    @sueron, I’ve found that hazlenut meal can make some recipes quite bitter…

  4. suearon permalink
    December 8, 2010 7:04 pm

    I think it is the skin which makes the mix bitter. I’ve got a new source of hazelnuts. They are from Natoora – a supplier who supply really good restaurants here in London. They are Turkish and blanched which I think should make the difference. Will let you know if I ever have the time to make them this year……seem to have so many other things pressing. Your photographs are great quality btw.

    • December 14, 2010 6:50 pm

      Yeah blanched would definitely make them less bitter! but I kind of like the earthy taste that the husks impart.

  5. December 9, 2010 4:23 pm

    Gorgeous photos – and those stars are begging to be popped in the mouth! But it’s the gingerbread man designs – how cute are they? The cat one – too good. I’d have all gingerbread cats!

    • December 14, 2010 6:51 pm

      Yeah we had a bit too much fun coming up with the designs I think haha. I posted more photos in my next post!

      My friend came up with the cat one! How cute is it!

  6. December 23, 2011 1:33 pm

    Thank you sooo much for an illustrated Zimsterne recipe! I, too, am nostalgic for a German christmas. This doesn’t make it look too intimidating! Danke! 🙂

  7. December 13, 2012 6:39 pm

    Yum! Great recipe 🙂

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