Monday, December 30, 2013

Taste of Home: Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

It's that time of the year again - I am baking.

Cinnamon stars (Zimtsterne) may just be my favorite cookies - ever! They also don't last long when I share an assortment of Christmas cookies with my colleagues at work.  Turns out, they're not hard to make - and they're even gluten free!

The recipe comes from my trusted "Dr. Oetker Backbuch".

Obviously, the recipe is in German. But no worries, I'll translate.  Also, note that the star in the picture above is a six-pointed star.  That's important.  The cookie doesn't taste right, if you cut it out as a 5-pointed star!

Here is what you need: 

I use whole almonds, because I can get them at Sam's Club.  I chop them myself in my trusted Cuisinart machine.  The picture below shows the chopped almonds.  Note that the pieces on the right are a bit too big.  Shaking and tapping the container will bring the largest pieces to the top.  I will usually take the larger pieces and chop them again.  The recipe calls for 275g-325g of chopped almonds.  I weigh the almonds before chopping them.  To be safe, I usually chop at least 350g of almonds. It is possible to replace the almonds with hazelnuts, but where I live, hazelnuts are prohibitively expensive - so almonds it is!

To begin making the cookie dough, separate 3 egg whites from the yolks.  Beat the whites using a mixer, like my trusted Kitchen Aid mixer, for example, until a knife cut remains visible in the egg-white foam. To successfully beat egg white to foam, it's important that the container is very clean, cool and that no trace of yolk or grease in it.   

Weigh out 250g of powdered sugar.  German recipes usually call for weight measurements while US recipes call for volume measures. If your scale only measure in ounces, the all knowing Internet can help with the calculation. I'd advise against converting to volume measures. 

Gradually add the powdered sugar to the egg-white foam one tablespoon at the time.  However, you can continue using the mixer at this point.  This is not one of the recipes where it's necessary to fold ingredients into the egg whites.  Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of the egg-white/powdered sugar mix for use later.  Then add vanilla extract (1 tsp), almond extract (1/2 tsp) and cinnamon (1 tsp).  The original recipe calls for ingredients that are slightly different.  However, I replace them with comparable items that are more likely to be available in a US grocery store. 

At this point, you can add the almonds (or hazelnuts) to the mixture.  The dough will be quite sticky at first. Pour some chopped almonds on a surface and knead the dough until it barely sticks.  Once the dough is workable, roll it out to a thickness of about 1/3 inch.  If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, add powdered sugar to the top of the mass. It also helps to frequently wash the rolling pin and the kneading surface with cold water.  Cut out stars using a 6-pointed (!) star. 

Note that I am working with a little bit of dough at the time.  If the dough sticks to the corners of the star cutter, add more powdered sugar to the dough, and wash the star and the kneading surface.  Eventually, you'll be able to cut out complete stars, and they will easily come off the surface. 

Place the cinnamon stars on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the egg white/sugar mixture, that you saved earlier, on the cookies.  These cookies will not increase in size during baking so they can be placed closely together on the cookie sheet.

Bake for about 30 minutes at 275 F.  Since ovens vary, the timing and temperature may vary slightly.  The finished cookie should still be white-ish on the top and it should feel a little soft when it comes out of the oven. 

Now it's your turn!  Enjoy!

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

3 egg whites
250 g powered sugar
1 package vanilla sugar (substitute: 1 tsp vanilla extract)
3 drops bitter almond oil (substitute: 1/2 tsp almond extract)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
275-325g ground almonds or hazelnuts

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