Sea­sonal treats

Luisa Weiss bakes Christ­mas bis­cuits

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Luisa Weiss Luisa Weiss is a food blog­ger, colum­nist and cook­book au­thor; @wednes­day­chef

Al­most every­one I know here in Ber­lin, young or old, heads to the kitchen to bake Christ­mas cook­ies in early De­cem­ber – even those who spend the rest of the year firmly on the other side of the house from the oven.

Ad­vent Sun­days are when friends and fam­ily come over for bis­cuits, in­stead of the usual cakes or tortes, with their af­ter­noon tea or cof­fee. A gen­er­ous as­sort­ment – a bunter Teller, or “colour­ful plate” – is usu­ally served, a show­case of tex­tures, colours and flavours.

It is also tra­di­tional to present beau­ti­fully pack­aged gifts of home­made bis­cuits to col­leagues, friends and fam­ily. My as­sis­tant, Maja, makes a mag­a­zine-wor­thy bunter teller each year, with no less than 10 dif­fer­ent kinds of cookie. One year, after hav­ing baked 17 dif­fer­ent recipes, she had close to 2,000 bis­cuits stored in tins around her apart­ment!

Ger­man Christ­mas bak­ing can be hard work. There can be a lot of steps, for which some art­ful­ness may be re­quired. But the pay­off is worth it. A note on tex­ture and taste: many of the recipes use a honey-based dough be­cause his­tor­i­cally, honey, not sugar, was Europe’s sweet­ener. Also, the dough of­ten has no added fat. As a re­sult, the bis­cuits are chewier and drier than you might be used to. The goal is for them to stay fresh for a long time in an air­tight con­tainer and to be eaten with, or dunked into, hot drinks. A trick of­ten used in Ger­many to keep bis­cuits soft and moist is to put a slice of fresh bread or a wedge of ap­ple into the stor­age jar.

Hazel­nut rasp­berry mac­a­roons

These are gluten-free and will keep well, so feel free to make a dou­ble batch. Buy good-qual­ity nuts and toast them be­fore grind­ing – it trans­forms the flavour.

Makes about 30

230-290g whole un­skinned hazel­nuts

2 egg whites

¼ tsp salt

150g gran­u­lated sugar

150g rasp­berry jam

1 Pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.

2 Put the hazel­nuts on a bak­ing tray in a sin­gle layer and toast in the oven for 15 min­utes, or un­til fra­grant. Lay a clean li­nen dish­cloth flat on a work sur­face and dump the hot hazel­nuts on to it. Gather the dish­cloth around the hazel­nuts and rub them to­gether un­til they are mostly skinned (don’t worry about re­mov­ing the skins en­tirely). Let the nuts cool com­pletely.

3 Line two bak­ing trays with pa­per. Put the nuts in a food pro­ces­sor and pulse

un­til finely ground, but not so long that they turn into a paste.

4 Put the egg whites and salt in a mix­ing bowl and whip un­til frothy. Slowly add the sugar and con­tinue beat­ing un­til the egg whites have formed soft peaks. The sugar will not be com­pletely dis­solved. Fold in all but 25g of the ground hazel­nuts un­til well com­bined. The mix­ture should be thick but should hold its shape when dropped from a spoon. Add some of the re­main­ing hazel­nuts if needed, fold­ing in un­til well com­bined.

5 Us­ing two small spoons, scoop out heaped tea­spoons of bat­ter on to the bak­ing trays, leav­ing about 2.5cm be­tween them. Put one bak­ing tray in the oven and bake for 10 min­utes, or un­til golden brown. Re­move from the oven and, us­ing the back of a tea­spoon, im­me­di­ately press a well into the cen­tre of each cookie. Trans­fer to a rack. Re­peat with the sec­ond tray.

6 When all the cook­ies are on the rack and are still warm, gen­tly heat the rasp­berry jam in a small pan un­til liq­ue­fied and let it bub­ble for 30 sec­onds. Spoon a lit­tle bit of the hot jam into the well of each cookie. Let the jam set and the cook­ies cool com­pletely.

7 Store in an air­tight con­tainer with grease­proof pa­per be­tween the lay­ers. They will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Cin­na­mon-al­mond meringue stars

There may be no Christ­mas cookie more pop­u­lar. I find that drying the un­cooked bis­cuits overnight and then bak­ing them briefly is the best way.

Makes about 55

3 egg whites

A small pinch of salt

200g ic­ing sugar

300g finely ground raw al­monds

2 tsp ground cin­na­mon

1 Whisk the egg whites and salt with a mixer on a medium-high speed. Pour in the sugar slowly and whip for 7 min­utes, or un­til the mix­ture is glossy and stiff. Mea­sure out about 12 tbsp and set aside.

2 Fold 225g of the al­monds and the cin­na­mon into the re­main­ing egg whites. Con­tinue adding the rest of the al­monds un­til you have a firm, slightly sticky dough. You may not need the whole 300g. Wrap the dough in cling­film and re­frig­er­ate for 30 min­utes.

3 Line two bak­ing trays with pa­per. Un­wrap the dough, and roll it out to 6mm thick­ness be­tween two sheets of cling­film. Us­ing a 4cm star-shaped cookie cut­ter, cut out the cook­ies. Dip the cut­ter in cold wa­ter ev­ery so of­ten to keep the dough from stick­ing. Put the cook­ies on the bak­ing sheets.

4 Us­ing a spoon and a tooth­pick, spread the re­served meringue evenly over each star, tak­ing care to drag it out to the points. Let the cook­ies sit at a cool room tem­per­a­ture for 12-24 hours. The meringue will be dry to the touch.

5 Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Bake the cook­ies, one bak­ing tray at a time in the bot­tom of the oven, for 3-4 min­utes or un­til the meringue is set but still snowy white.

6 Re­move the bak­ing tray and put it on a rack. Let the cook­ies cool com­pletely on the tray. Once com­pletely cooled, store in an air­tight con­tainer. They will keep for up to a month.

Hazel­nut-al­mond ba­tons

This recipe for hazel­nut-flavoured short­bread comes from Maja’s Swabian mother-in-law. With six chil­dren in the house, she favoured recipes that could be made eas­ily with the as­sis­tance of young helpers. These bis­cuits are rel­a­tively del­i­cate and should be kept as dry as pos­si­ble, so avoid stor­ing them with other cook­ies and take care when han­dling.

Makes 48

350g plain flour

⅛ tsp salt

50g ground toasted hazel­nuts

100g con­fec­tioner’s sugar

200g un­salted but­ter, soft­ened

2 egg yolks

1 tsp wa­ter

2 tbsp pearl sugar nibs

2 tbsp finely chopped hazel­nuts

2 tbsp finely chopped blanched al­monds

1 Com­bine the flour, salt, ground hazel­nuts and con­fec­tioner’s sugar in a large bowl. Cut the but­ter into cubes and work into the flour, adding one of the yolks as you go, un­til you have a work­able dough. It should be on the dry side. Wrap the dough in cling­film and re­frig­er­ate for an hour.

2 Re­move the dough from the fridge. It will feel a lit­tle crumbly and dry. Knead it un­til it is smooth and quite firm.

3 Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a bak­ing tray with pa­per.

4 Us­ing a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 17 x 23cm rec­tan­gle. Trim the edges. Us­ing a sharp knife, cut the rec­tan­gle length­ways into 12 even strips. Quar­ter the rec­tan­gle width­ways. Do not sep­a­rate the pieces yet.

5 Beat the sec­ond yolk with the wa­ter to make an egg wash and brush it over the dough. Sprin­kle the pearl sugar and finely chopped nuts evenly over the dough and, us­ing the palms of your hands, press the top­pings lightly into the dough to an­chor them.

6 Us­ing a spat­ula, trans­fer the in­di­vid­ual ba­tons on to the pre­pared bak­ing trays. The bis­cuits won’t spread in the oven, so you can keep them close to­gether. Bake for 15-18 min­utes, or un­til the dough is bis­cuit coloured and the nuts are roasted.

7 Re­move the tray from the oven and let it cool on a rack. The com­pletely cooled bis­cuits will keep in an air­tight con­tainer for up to 3 weeks.

One year, after hav­ing baked 17 dif­fer­ent recipes, my as­sis­tant had close to 2,000 bis­cuits stored in tins around her apart­ment

▲ This is an ex­tract from Clas­sic Ger­man Bak­ing by Luisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press), out now

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