The pre-Christmas weeks were the usual blur of finishing up classes for the year, meeting with friends at various Christmas markets in the area, and of course, baking. I wound up making no less than five sort of Plätzchen from Classic German Baking over the holiday weeks. As such, this post gets long… click on!
I went down to the Village and spent the usual weekend making cookies with the rest of the crew. This was the eighth year we’ve gotten together to bake and we kiiiinda crushed it this year.
The two large square trays are my old family recipe for cut-out sugar cookies, the pink ones are also a family recipe for a raspberry meringue cookie. We also had chocolate chip/Reese’s cookies (either side of the back cut-out tray), peanut butter/pretzel cookies (at 3 o’clock and 7 o’clock), a coconut cookie courtesy of the Costa Rican visitors (the round white ones in the middle), and the two I’ll be talking about today: Vanillekipferl (white crescents centerish) and the Biberle (4 o’clock). Close enough… right?
Two of the recipes that I took charge of came from Classic German Baking: the Vanillekipferl and the Biberle. We have definitely made Vanillekipferl on our baking weekend before, but we previously used the recipe from one of VillageGal’s German cookbooks, so this was my first crack at the CGB version.
Vanillekipferl are a major favorite among most of the Germans I know, and nearly everyone seems to make their own. We were gifted a large bag of them, along with two loaves of Stollen from BV’s dad a few days before Christmas, so those were my main source of comparison this year.
Though the ones from BV’s dad (or a friend of his, more accurately) are good, mine were better. Mine were less exactly made, thanks to VillageGal and her girls, but they were also much less dry, and we had also been more generous with the vanilla sugar after baking. There are no pictures from the process, due to the usual chaos of seven people in the kitchen, but you can see the finished cookies in the photo above.
Typical to my baking style this year, I have no idea why I decided to try out the Biberle. I’m guessing it had something to do with a “oh, this has marzipan in it, that can’t be bad,” but I really don’t remember. However it came about, I packed up Lebkuchengewürze (gingerbread spice) and marzipan and hauled them down to the village.
I didn’t however, pack quite enough marzipan (reading directions is for suckers), so we would up making two versions: one with normal marzipan, and one with a honey marzipan that VillageGal had in the cupboard.
This wasn’t the fastest cookie to get together, due to the slightly fussy instructions after the resting time, but it was so worth it. The girls helped me roll out the marzipan into eight little snakes, which then got wrapped into eight pieces of the main cookie dough. The eight-year old took over cutting the rolls into small nuggets, and we popped them into the oven.
They were pretty hard when they came out of the oven and browner than I wanted; the instructions say they should be lightly browned and soft to the touch… possible disaster? Nope.
They were hard for a day or so, but softened up into delightful nuggets of marzipan, honey, and gingerbready goodness. I can particularly recommend pairing a few of them with a glass of red wine (or Glühwein), I’m not picky. Fuss or not, these shall be made again… they were a bit hit with everyone.
Back at home, I needed more cookies. I also had a goal.
Last year, my sister and I had taken a crack at Zimtsterne and failed miserably. I wish I could say I knew what went wrong and had a plan to remedy it, but I had no idea.
The most difficult part of all of this was mixing the meringue. I’m no stranger to doing meringue cookies (those pink ones above have been my favorite since forever), but making this meringue both glossy and stiff took ages longer than the seven minutes (with a stand mixer) stipulated in the recipe. I didn’t want to overmix it, but mine never reached a definitive stiffness.
Other than that, I followed the directions to a T and took my time. Patience may have been the key factor, because they wound up in actual cookies this time, as opposed to crumbles like last year. I’m still not sure if they’re exactly “right,” as they’re very different to the commercial Zimtsterne that I’ve had, but the recipe says they should remain soft and chewy (most store-bought versions are quite hard and much darker in color) with meringue that stays white, and that’s what I have. I’m calling it a (tasty) win.
Zimtsterne put safely in the office to rest overnight (weird but true), it was onto the main event: Elisenlebkuchen, a glazed, flourless gingerbread from right here in Nürnberg. If you look for Lebkuchen around this area, that’s what you’re going to get, and it is glorious.
BV was very unconvinced when I told him that this recipe had no need for chilling. Most gingerbread doughs require resting for days, or even weeks if you’ve got the time. The one previous time that we’d tried out a recipe from one of his colleagues, we didn’t rest it, and it did not end well. The gingerbread bars tasted fine, but they were a cake more than cookies.
One incredibly sticky bowl of dough later, it was time to try and spread the sticky goop on the Oblaten, the wafers that the gingerbread are baked on. The recipe said I’d end up with about 15 of the larger (9cm) Lebkuchen, but it wound up being more like 30 of them. This is not a bad problem, except I had to pause my chocolate glazing until the next day when I could get to the store for even more melting chocolate. Worth it.
I wasn’t entirely sure it’d be worth the trouble of making my own Lebkuchen, given the fact that 1) we live in the Nürnberg area and 2) you can’t swing a stick this time of year without hitting some gingerbread, but I’m happy I did it. They got an enthusiastic seal of approval from my Nürnberger native, and we’ve still got a stash. Those didn’t go to class. 😉
While the first batch of gingerbread was in the oven, I looked around at my remaining Lebkuchengewürze and said, “huh, Pfeffernüsse also need gingerbread spice… why don’t I make those too?”
After confirming that we had all the other ingredients, including that funky baker’s ammonia again, I was off. I was absolutely loving the color and aroma of the honey, sugar and spices together, when it came time to mix the ammonia into some warmed rum. That went fine, albeit a bit smelly, and then it was into the honey mixture.
Things got weird.
It’s doesn’t look too odd in a (slightly blurry kinda) pictures but the rum/ammonia reacts with the honey mix and turns it into a foamy, ammonia and booze-scented mess. I was pretty freaked out, but hoped it was right* and pressed on. The dry ingredients were added, and then I had a sticky dough. I opted to not add more flour, fearing it becoming too stiff and dry. The sticky dough got rolled into balls, and here I wondered if I had made a mistake… I wound up with a lot of dough residue on my hands, so a bit more flour probably wouldn’t have hurt.
After the cookies had baked and been glazed, I was looking forward to testing the first one out. That’s when I read the saddest line possible in the recipe… “Let the cookies cool completely before storing in a tin, and wait 2 to 3 days before eating.”
Cut to two days later. I dipped into the tin, and pulled out two cookies. One for me, one for BV. He bit into, and yelled “this is it!”
Why would he do such a thing?
Well because a few days before, we had discussed his favorite Christmas cookie. I was under the impression that it was the humble Vanillekipferl, but he told me that though he liked those a lot, they were not his favorite. His favorite were a cookie that had been made by his grandma when he was a kid. Did he know what they were? Nope… no he didn’t.
I read through all the cookie titles in CGB, hoping that one of the names would jog his memory, but nothing sounded familiar, at least not in that way. He looked around online for a few minutes, but didn’t come across any likely candidates. We decided that it was a lost cause. Until he ate that cookie.
Turns out, it was the Pfeffernüsse all along. He gave his resounding approval to this version and it’s safe to say that these will be going on the yearly to-bake list. The only thing I’d do differently next time would be making them a teensy bit smaller. We need more.
Christmas baking season come and gone means the end of this yearlong baking project. By my count, I managed 20 of the recipes from Classic German Baking. I tested at least one thing from all of the categories, and learned at least a few things along the way (yeast, I’m looking at you).
To those of you who followed along on here or via the Instagram stories, thanks for the comments and support! I’ve enjoyed doing these a lot, and may well continue in the future. I never did get around to recapping the first bake I did, a Black Forest Cake, so I may revisit that one in January so I can finally write about it. Let’s see what 2019 brings, shall we?
What did I miss from the book? Tell me what to bake next!
*I do love this book but I feel like if that was normal, a mention of it in the directions wouldn’t have gone amiss.