Nothing says Christmas quite like cookies. Every year shortly after Thanksgiving, my family & I would spend an entire day baking – lebkuchen, spekulatius, and whatever else happened to take our fancy that year. My favourite has always been vanilla kipferl, which takes its name from the crescent shape. There’s a variation on this almond cookie in most Germanic/Scandinavian countries, but I use my Mom’s recipe which is almost certainly from a German cookbook. It’s a very simple recipe, really similar to shortbread. Kipferl are dry, but that’s because like most German cookies & cakes, they’re meant to be eaten with a cup of coffee (or tea, in my case). Vanilla kipferl are easy & delicious; do try them! I promise you’ll never regret it.
300 g flour
125 g sugar
3 egg yolks
125 g ground almonds*
250 g butter/margarine
2 packets vanilla sugar**
* I like a lot of texture in my cookies, so I use a mixture of store-bought ground almonds and almonds that I’ve toasted and ground roughly in my mortar & pestle (I don’t have a food processor, alas).
** In England, I’ve found packets of vanilla sugar in Polish/Eastern European food shops. A packet usually contains a couple of tablespoons.But now I just make my own by sticking a vanilla pod in a pot of sugar. It can be nice to use replace some of the plain sugar with vanilla sugar, though.
If you have a stand mixer, to be honest I think you could just put in all the ingredients (except 1 packet of vanilla sugar; leave that out for the cookies to be rolled in), butter cut into cubes, in the bowl and wait until it comes together as a smooth, thick ball of dough (again, think pastry).
Instructions for making by hand are as follows:
Make the flour into a pile with a well in the middle & put the sugar, 1 packet vanilla sugar, and egg yolks in the middle. Mix together. Add almonds and butter (in pieces) and knead until it’s a thick dough. Rest for 30-40 minutes; I recommend doing this in a refrigerator when possible.
Cut or tear dough into small pieces; roll and shape into crescents. Bake at 180 C for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden. Put remaining vanilla sugar in a shallow bowl/dish.
Remove from oven. While warm, remove the cookies from the baking sheet and roll in the vanilla sugar, or dust them using a spoon. I much prefer rolling them in sugar, personally.
My kipferl baking session on Sunday was the first sign of my festive spirit. It’s taken a long time to get started this year for some reason. It probably helped that R spent the day wrapping presents, too! Maybe Christmas spirit comes to me late because by now I know Christmas is the day I am most homesick, so psychologically I want to delay it? Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to visit some of my family in Germany last week. I never really got to know my mom’s side of the family very well (they all live in Germany now, though some used to live in Ireland) when I was growing up because travelling was so expensive/time consuming. Now that I live in England, I try to visit them more often. And what better time than December? Germany is lovely all the time, but it really is especially nice around Christmas.
My family are in Hannover & Hildesheim, so I got to go to two Christkindlmarkten! I got a couple of truly beautiful things in Hannover to add to our Christmas collection. Pictures don’t really do them justice, but it can’t hurt to try:
Wooden nativity scene, with gold-painted edges. Glass mushroom ornament. Both about 3 inches tall.
Sadly, it was raining when I was Hildesheim, so I only stayed in the market long enough to eat some Schmalzkuchen. I still managed to enjoy myself during the rest of my stay, though; I found a wonderful little coffeehouse called Das Kleine Röstwerk, had a nice bowl of lentil soup and a cup of delicious fruit tea called wilde hilde. It was right next to Andreaskirche, one of the three gorgeous old churches that Hildesheim is famous for. I also got to see (okay, listen to – I could only get a Horplatz) the first half of Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium in the Mariendom Hildesheim, built in 865.
Now that I’m back at home and have started the Christmas baking, I’m a bit more in the mood to do Christmassy stuff. I’ve still got a few bits to make – an ornament for R, some handkerchiefs for his dad, and a few knitted things for friends. Stay tuned to see how they turn out!