No one does Christmas pastry better than the Germans, not even the French can compete. As a child I lived many years in Germany and the sheer abundance of Christmas cookies, biscuits, cakes and buns around Christmas time is amazing. And I haven’t even started with all supermarkets and department stores opening their special Christmas chocolate sections (half of an entire floor at the classic Berlin institution KaDeWe last time I was there!). For a chocolate lover this is almost a mental overload; there are pralines in every thinkable flavour like Apfle-Zimt-Haselnuss-Nougat or how about Cointreau-Orange-Marzipan-Zartbitter. There are hollow chocolate shaped trees, Santa Clauses, hearts or how about a squirrel? (Now you want one, I know.)
When I was on a quick visit to Germany a week ago, I was yet again reminded of the sheer sugar-loaded joy that surrounds the holidays. Baking traditional cookies is a favourite pastime in der Adventszeit for many who happily gift these to colleagues and neighbours. German Christmas cookies are called Plätzchen, which literally means “a little place”, although its’ origin comes from the word “Platz”, meaning “round flat cake” (which in turns comes from an old French word, place). As an ode to my German heart, I decided to bake one of the most iconic Plätzchen recipes, the humble Vanillekipflerl. The Vanillekipferl is made out of very few ingredients – ground nuts and vanilla being the most important – and comes from southern Germany and Austria. The croissant-like shape is in itself worthy of a lengthy explanation (if you thought that the French invented this, you are mistaken), but now I feel I am getting off track here….
So, here it is, my ode to the German Plätzchen. For it surely has a special little place in my heart.
Makes about 35
120 gr ground hazelnuts (or almonds)
200 gr flour
60 gr sugar
20 gr vanilla sugar
270 gr butter
about 25 gr of confectioners’ sugar and real vanilla powder to dust the cookies with after they’ve baked
Mix everything for the cookie batter together quickly and refrigerate (wrapped in plastic) for about an hour.
Turn on the oven at 180 degrees Celsius.
Take small bits of the dough and shape into half moons. I find that rolling the dough into sausage like shapes between my hands and then lightly bending the dough makes this easier. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Put into the middle of the oven and bake for around 10-15 minutes. It’s fine if the outermost edges get slightly golden, but the cookies should not get that much colour.
Let them cool slightly on the baking sheet for a few minutes and dust with the icing sugar, combined with the vanilla powder.
Small, humble, easy to make. Perfect.