Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Cookies #4: German Cinnamon Stars (Zimtsterne)

It looks like I was on a bit of a German cookie kick this year because this batch was an additional tribute to the O Tannenbaum spirit. Not only that, but these and the other German cookie I made (Lebkuchen) were the overall favorites of the lot. The Cinnamon Stars are unusual and surprisingly simple - yet very delicate and delicious. A food processor works wonders on this recipe, which was a find.

2 1/4 cups organic confectioners' sugar, plus more for rolling
10 ounces raw almonds, with skin
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites, room temperature (I let the eggs sit out overnight)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
sliced almonds or sprinkles for garnish

Sift the confectioners' sugar (I forgot to do this, but somehow they turned out fine).

Put 1/2 cup of the sifted confectioners' sugar, the almonds and all the cinnamon in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground, with just a few larger pieces.

Whip the egg whites in a large, clean bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining confectioners' sugar while whipping, until the whites are thick, creamy and somewhat stiff, about 2 minutes more. Set aside 2/3 cup of this meringue for topping the cookies. (I misread the instructions and set aside 2/3 of the entire meringue batch for topping, which left me with a whole lot of leftover meringue for the compost. Surprisingly, again, the cookies still turned out fine.)

Fold the ground almond mixture and the lemon zest into the remaining meringue to make a stiff dough.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

Lay a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on the work surface and lightly dust with confectioners' sugar. Turn the dough out onto the dusted paper, flatten and dust with more sugar as needed, and then lay another sheet of parchment or waxed paper on top. Roll the dough between the papers until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Flip the dough over and gently peel off a sheet of the paper. For ease when cutting, lay the paper back on the dough, flip again and gently pull off the other side of the paper so that the dough is fully released from it.

Cut cookies with a 3-inch star cutter and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. (Excess dough can be rerolled.) Use a small spoon, brush or offset spatula to spread the reserved meringue over the top of each cookie, taking care not to let the meringue drip over the sides. Press or sprinkle sliced almonds or sprinkles in a decorative pattern into the meringue.

Bake cookies until bottoms are light golden brown and meringue is set and crisp, about 30-40 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to release heat and dry cookies out in the oven for 10 more minutes.

Cookies are about 110 calories each.

Busy baker's tips: The dough can be frozen between the sheets of paper for up to 2 weeks. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 10 days.