Friday, December 15, 2017

Cinnamon-almond meringue stars (Zimtsterne)

Christmas is not far away now.  A lot of people in my workplace finish up today to commence their Christmas holidays, and for those of us who are still working, things seem jollier and lighter.

Long-time readers will know that every year, I make Christmas treat boxes for colleagues and friends, stealing the idea from some American bloggers that I read back in the early days of my blog (can you believe it, 10 years ago!).  Half the fun is deciding what to put in the treat boxes from the myriad choices that I could make.  

This year I did not spend a lazy afternoon planning what to put in the treat boxes, as life has seemed very fast this year.  I just randomly noted recipes of interest in my head as I saw them, and when the time came to actually make the treats, I seized on the top few recipes plus a Dorie Greenspan recipe that  I had to make for Tuesdays with Dorie, and lo, I had my treat boxes.  I belatedly added in a savoury item, as I had selected all sweets with no savoury, and I know that most people like a little of both. 

The other interesting thing this year is that a few items that have been staples  in the past did not appear in the treat boxes.  There was no traditional style Christmas cake, no plum pudding, no rum balls and no apricot balls.  There has been a lot of change in my life in the last 18 months, not all of it by choice, so I feel that in an unconscious way, my treat box choices reflected that.

On my mother's side of the family, I am of staunchly German heritage, with both sets of great grandparents being German immigrants to Australia in the late 1800s.  I can't imagine how they might have felt, taking a very long journey on a ship half way across the world, to a place sight unseen with a climate dramatically different to what they were used to.  Today, travel is faster and safer, and there is a wealth of information about other countries, so we have so many advantages over my ancestors.

Despite only possessing some rudimentary German vocabulary learnt in Grade 8 German and having only visited Germany once on an Insights tour, I enjoy exploring my German heritage through baking.    When Luisa Weiss published some recipes for German Christmas cookies in The Guardian, they went "straight to the pool room" of recipes for my treat boxes. The beauty of the majority of these recipes is that they are gluten free - I had three gluten-free people to make for this year, so as a result, everyone received gluten free goodies.

First up, I made Luisa's recipe for cinnamon-almond meringue stars.  I foolishly did not study the recipe in advance, and airily believed that the snowy white tops on these cookies were white icing.  After all, the recipe contained icing sugar, didn't it?  Nope, wrong.  The snowy white top of these cookies is meringue that is painstakingly coaxed over the top of the star-shaped cookies to cover them in a pristine white blanket.  

Other things to note abut making these cookies is that the dough is very, very sticky and unco-operative, so do take Luisa's tip about dipping the cutter in water to stop it from sticking - and keep the dough cold!  Also note that once the cookies are formed, you need 12-24 hours to dry them before baking - they only bake for 3-4 minutes.  I only dried mine for about half that time and they turned out fine (I am in Australia in summer where things dry quicker than in wintery Europe), but regardless, you will need a few hours of drying time.

However, these cookies are worth the effort - so good!  Chewy, nutty, not overly sweet and very pretty.  If you want to take the plunge and make these cookies, you will need:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
200g icing sugar
300g almond meal 
2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk the egg whites and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the sugar, whisking until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Remove three heaped tablespoons of the meringue mixture from the bowl and set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, fold 225g of almond meal and the cinnamon into the large quantity of meringue. Add the rest of the almond meal until a firm but sticky dough forms. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for half an hour.

Roll the chilled dough out to 6mm thick between two sheets of cling film. Cut cookies from the dough with a 4cm star shaped cutter. Dip the cutter in cold water every so often to keep the dough from sticking (very important!). Put the cookies on baking trays lined with baking paper.

Spoon small blobs of the reserved meringue on top of each cookie, and spread it evenly over the top of the cookie with a wooden skewer. Allow the cookies to dry on the trays at room temperature for 12-24 hours or until the meringue is dry to the touch (but don't poke too hard or you'll crack the surface!).

Preheat your oven to 180C, and bake the cookies, one tray at a time on the bottom shelf, for 3-4 minutes or until the meringue is set but still white.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking trays on a wire rack.


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I love the idea of these treat boxes. You must have some very lucky colleagues Cakelaw. And 10 years-wow! Time for a celebration :D

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake said...

What fun, festive cookies!! Congrats on 10 years---I'll hit 8 in March. Hard to believe,isn't it???

Kari said...

Enjoy the lead up to Christmas in this final stretch. These stars look lovely and your co-workers are very lucky to have you bake for them over the year and treat them come Christmas.

2paw said...

So much work in these biscuits, you are very dedicated. Lucky recipients. This year I am making everything for my baking gift giving in slice tins: if it can’t be cut into pieces, I’m not baking it!