It’s that time of year to roll up your sleeves and get ready to fill your kitchen and home with the aroma of Christmas baking!
The smell of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fennel seed and star anise are what remind me most of Christmas because they are the smells, along with staple ingredients like nuts and butter, that I grew up with in my home of southern Germany. And those traditional German baked goodies are the ones I’m forever biased towards come Christmastime.
Today I have another traditional German cookie to add to your repertoire of holiday baking: Zimtsterne. Have you tried these before? You can find them in any grocery store and Christmas market throughout Germany as well as in Austria and Switzerland. Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without them. And of course, as with most things, homemade is the best.
These German “cinnamon star” cookies are made almost entirely of ground nuts – traditionally almonds but also commonly combined with hazelnuts. A southern German specialty, they are naturally gluten free and dairy free and feature a snowy white hard frosting made from sugar and egg white.
An ingredient this recipe calls for that you may not be familiar with is Vanillezucker (vanilla sugar). It’s commonly called for in a lot of German recipes. Why no American manufacturer makes I’ll never understand – sometimes in baking you need that touch of vanilla flavor without adding any liquid (i.e. vanilla extract). That’s where vanilla sugar comes in.
You can easily make your own and a great cost-saving way to do that is to use the discarded vanilla beans of Homemade Vanilla Extract, but it’s much more convenient to have these packets on hand. (You can find them here on Amazon.)
Other than that, these cookies call for just a small handful of ingredients, but I promise you, they really pack a wonderful flavor and texture. Zimtsterne are one of the most popular and beloved of all German Christmas cookies. And once you’ve tried them you’ll see why.
Happy baking and may you enjoy this Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
Let’s get started!
Beat the egg whites until peaks form (be careful not to over-beat or the frosting won’t turn out right). Sift the powdered sugar into the egg whites and use a spoon to stir just until combined.
Reserve 2 heaping tablespoons of the egg mixture in a small bowl for the frosting.
Add the nuts, cinnamon and vanilla sugar. Beat until the mixture is combined and comes together in a fairly stiff but pliable mass. If it’s too soft to work with add a few more ground nuts and powdered sugar.
Press the dough onto a non-stick surface (you can sprinkle the surface with powdered sugar but I still prefer to spread the dough out onto either plastic wrap or a non-stick cookie sheet to prevent sticking). Press/roll it to a width of about a 1/3 inch.
Use a 3-inch star-shaped cookie cutter and cut stars out of the dough. Knead the scraps back into a ball, roll it out again and cut more stars.
Transfer the cookies to a non-stick or lined cookie sheet. Use a pastry brush to brush on the egg white mixture all the way to the edges of the cookies.
Bake on the bottom rack in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely.
Can be stored in a dry, airtight container in a cool place for at least 2 weeks.
Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Star Cookies)
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (do not turn on the fan, it can cause the egg white topping to brown before the cookies are done). Place the rack on the bottom rung of the oven.
- Beat the egg whites in a medium-sized bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir in the powdered sugar until combined. Reserve 2 generous, heaping tablespoons of the egg white mixture for the glaze.
- Add the nuts, cinnamon, vanilla sugar and salt and beat until the dough comes together in a fairly stiff but pliable mass. If it's too soft to work with add a few more ground nuts and powdered sugar.
- Press/roll the dough onto a non-stick surface sprinkled with powdered sugar to a thickness of about 1/3 inch. Use a 3-inch star cookie cutter to cut out the cookies and transfer them to a lined or non-stick cookie sheet. Form the scraps of dough into a ball, roll it out again and cut cookies out of the remaining dough.
- Use a pastry brush to brush on the reserved egg white mixture in a thin layer reserving enough for all of the cookies and extending the glaze out to the edges of the cookies.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely.
- The cookies can be stored in a dry, airtight container in a cool place for at least 2 weeks.