Zimtsterne are cinnamon stars. I should explain first that a German Christmas without enough special biscuits to sink the Titanic is unthinkable, at least in our family. I can remember the wonderful smell of baking – cinnamon, lemon, honey, nutmeg and other spices throughout our apartment late at night, when Mum “secretly” produced the delicious stars, cats, moons and all manner of other shapes. These would fill the huge tins which were hidden in the back corner of my parents’ wardrobe (I NEVER touched them, Mum, only looked! Honest!). On Christmas eve, while we waited breathlessly in our tiny room with our grandparents, the beautifully decorated tree, gifts and plates laden with biscuits, marzipan and chocolates would all miraculously appear in the lounge room.
Zimtsterne were among my favourite biscuits, so they are on the baking list every December. Here is the recipe:
Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)
Level of difficulty: Fiendish.
Warning: Do not try if you suffer from high blood pressure. NOT suitable for making with small children helping. Can be a good bonding exercise with teens, as they’ll probably do a better job than you (mine certainly did).
a few drops of lemon juice
300g icing sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
300g almond or hazelnut meal (or mixed)
Instructions: Beat eggwhites with an electric mixer until you think your hands are going to drop off (about 5 minutes). They must be very, very stiff. Add a few drops of lemon juice and, one spoonful at a time, the sieved icing sugar, while continuing to beat the living daylights out of the eggwhites. Continue to beat for about 5 – 10 minutes, twice as long if you’re silly enough to use handbeaters. Warning to handbeater-users – you’re either very strong, or you hands will actually have dropped off by now. Motivate yourself by imagining the eggwhites are that ex who broke up with you via text-message, an obnoxious boss, or a particularly annoying client.
Put 4 tablespoons of the mix aside in a mug. DO NOT FORGET!
Now stir in the cinnamon and nuts. At this stage, you’ll be so relieved not to be beating anything that you’ll think the worst is over. Nope. You’re wrong. The instructions say to then roll out the dough on sieved icing sugar or almond/hazelnut meal. I’ll give you a tip. Unless you have the lightest rolling-out touch ever (like my mother), you’ll just end up developing an anger management problem you didn’t know you had, while clumps of dough stick to everything. Instead of using a rolling-pin, just flatten the dough out with you hand covered in icing sugar, in smallish portions, until it’s about 5mm thick. Then use a star-shaped biscuit-cutter, dipped in icing sugar, to make the stars and carefully transfer them to a non-stick baking sheet. I rub the sheet with a beeswax candle, it makes the finished biscuits easier to get off. They can be a little tricky to get out of the cutter without breaking off the ends of the stars. Wash the cutter whenever it gets too much dough on it, it makes the job easier.
Then comes the next fun part. Brushing the biscuits with the beaten eggwhite mix you kept back earlier (if you did forget, you’ll be beating another eggwhite with icing sugar. Bad luck, you should have listened better!). Brush very gently, or you’ll end up ruining the biscuits you just managed to get on the baking sheet in a more-or-less star shape. If the mix is really stiff, add a little rum (or any other tasty, highly alcoholic beverage). Bake them at about 140C, very slowly and carefully. Baking time: About 30 minutes. Enjoy your first ever Zimtsterne!
P.S. If yours end up looking more like the one on the right (mine) than the one on the left (Mum’s), don’t despair. After 30 years or so of practice, yours will be perfect, too. I guarantee it.