Zimsterne, cinnamon stars, German Christmas biscuits are made from sugar, almonds, egg whites and cinnamon of course. Messy, finicky to cut and absolutely adorable.
The time of cinnamon and spice aka Christmas always brings plenty of biscuits. There are the spiced Lebkuchen, iced or dipped in chocolate. There are all kinds of shortbreads cut into Christmassy shapes: stars, trees, angels and Santas. There are mince pies and Danish butter biscuits, ginger snaps or sugar cookies, depending on wherever in the world you dwell.
What are Zimtsterne?
Zimtsterne or cinnamon stars are German Christmas biscuits. When I first heard of them I was convinced they were another incarnation of gingerbreads, like Lebkuchen or Pfeffernusse. Lovely and Christmassy, but nothing out of ordinary – except cut out in star shapes.
How wrong was I?
Couldn’t be wronger. Of all Christmas biscuits I know (and I know a few), these are the loveliest. They are inaccurately named as cinnamon is just a bit player in those cookies. What they most resemble is glorious French macarons, or very soft dacquoise biscuits, something very French and dainty.
They are made of almonds and egg whites, just like macarons, dacquoise and the rest of that posh crowd. They are incredible in their texture: a little soft, a little chewy, a little melting in the mouth.
They are also very easy to make, up to a point.
How to make Zimtsterne?
The batter – dough – pastry, not sure what it is called – is a meringue to start with. Egg whites beaten to stiff peaks are followed by the awfully boring but effective procedure of adding in sugar by a spoonful. There is some fun involved here as it is icing sugar we add – if you don’t watch it, it will be merrily puffed all over the kitchen. Better cover your bowl with a tea towel while you mix with a hand mixer, or make sure the lid on the standing mixer is on.
When all the sugar is gone, you have shiny, beautiful meringue but due to icing sugar being used, it will be quite runny – that’s how it should be. Cleverly, some of that meringue is decanted to serve later as a glaze on the biscuits. More cleverly, the amount isn’t super prescriptive: roughly a quarter to a third, depending on whether you want a lavish topping or just to paint the biscuits white.
The dough (I think that’s what it is, finally) needs to rest and set in the fridge for half an hour or so, so it’s easier to roll out.
And that’s when things get messy.
How to cut the cinnamon stars?
The concept is great: star-shaped almond dough covered with a meringue topping, shiny white and gorgeous. The problem is how to cut it: if you cut out bases and try to spread meringue on each, it will take forever and the cover won’t be neat – basically a blob of white obscuring the star shape.
The other method is to cover the rolled out dough disc with meringue and then cut ready-glazed biscuits. That’s what I do but it means a/ washing the cutter every three seconds and b/ an awful lot of waste because you can’t re-roll the offcuts already covered with meringue.
Waste? What waste?
There is a silver lining to the latter method though. You cannot re-roll but you can bake the offcuts as they are for a pre-festive bonus for the chef, or indeed the chef’s cut if you’re baking these little things as a gift, which they are very suited for.
The recipe is everywhere the same except perhaps the amount of meringue to set aside for glazing: some recipe writers prefer theirs thickly glazed, others go for less mess. I’ve consulted Lecker but exactly the same instructions were on the card that came with my Zimtsterne cutter.
It’s an interesting thing actually, opening and closing like Pacman. The feature is supposed to help cutting and releasing the cookies but it’s still messy like the devil. If you want to cut them with an ordinary, closed biscuits cutter – I wish you bestest of luck.