Tis the Season… for Weihnachtsguetzli ! (Cookie time !)
When December rolls around and the holidays approach, what gets you the most excited? For some, it’s the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree and taking it home to decorate, not to mention placing wrapped gifts underneath. For others, it’s thinking of their city filled with festive lights – always an elegant display here in Zürich. Still others anticipate the winter markets, roasting chestnuts by the fire or cooking and baking family recipes. For me… it’s Weihnachtsguetzli, Christmas cookies, of course! (recipes below)
You know fall is here in Zürich when the green huts selling heissi Marroni (roasted chestnuts) pop up all over town. And you know Christmas is just around the corner when the main train station transforms into Switzerland’s largest indoor Christmas market, 50 foot Swarovski tree and all. [Here are photos from 2009 and 2008]. There’s a new Christmas market in Zürich this year too, albeit a smaller one: Goldene Weihnachten am Bellevue, with 15 charming stands at Sechseläuten Square. While back in April we celebrated the end of winter there by watching a huge snowman go up in flames and explode (it’s true, look!), now we’re filling up on Glühwein, Stollen and cookies. Oh, and Raclette of course, as no market – for any occasion or any time of year – would be complete here without it.
My favorite stand of all was Globus for their variety of Weihnachtsguetzli. Six different cookies are all baked in a little oven right there. One day I watched Carmen (2nd photo up top) put the icing on the Zimtsterne, chewy cinnamon stars; and the next time, she had just finished a tray of Weinguetzli, most of whose red wine evaporates during baking, she assured me. And on yet another occasion, I was greeted by freshly cut dough for anise flavored Chräbeli. Most of all, I had my eye on the buttery Mailänderli, Vanille-Kipferli (vanilla crescents) and the chocolate almond Brunsli. I’m a bit sad they are no longer making Stollen-Confektion, adorable and delicious bite-size Stollen.
When my friend Nick Malgieri, who loves Switzerland *almost* as much as I do (a heated competition), is here visiting, we make sure to check out the sweet scene together. If he were here right now, no doubt I’d find him at the Globus stand, checking out the cookies. And perhaps comparing them to his own – another heated competition! When I asked Nick his favorite, it was hands down the Mailänderli, a thick butter cookie he absolutely loves. Don’t miss his recipes below for Mailänderli (below left) and Brunsli (below right), two of many I’ll be making in the coming weeks. Danke villmal, Nick!
Nick is also the sweet mastermind behind Saveur’s cookie feature in the December issue. He shared his favorite recipes from around the world, including American sugar cookies, Roman Tozzetti (anise, almond and hazelnut biscotti), speculaas and… Basler Brunsli! Here are a few more pages I’ve bookmarked that will be coming into the kitchen with me during the holidays:
* Hazelnut and marzipan macaroons, jam drops and German Spitzbuben from Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey?
* Peppermint bark chocolate chip cookies, sparkling ginger chip cookies, Swedish rye cookies and many more on 101 Cookbooks
* Saveur’s holiday cookie roundup adds more recipes to Nick’s favorites, including spice walnut cookies, German butter cookies and Claudia Fleming’s gingersnaps
* Over at delicious:days, I’ve had my eye on Nicky’s Brombeerbusserl (vanilla shortbread cookies with blackberry jam), Wespennester (“my kind of macarons”), Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger biscuits) and cocoa hazelnut spritz cookies. (Check out her Basler Brunsli and Vanillekipferl too)
* Betty Bossi (in German) has a whole feature on Swiss readers’ favorite Weihnachtsguetzli with recipes, and ranks their popularity as such: 1. Brunsli, 2. Mailänderli, 3. Zimtsterne, 4. Spitzbuben and 5. Chräbeli/Anisbrötli.
I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! What’s your favorite holiday cookie?
Nick Malgieri’s recipes for Weihnachtsguetzli, Swiss Christmas Cookies
“Though traditional Brunsli are made with almonds, occasionally I like to substitute hazelnuts or a combination of the two nuts.”
Makes about 5 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter used
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups whole almonds, about 6 ounces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large egg whites
More sugar for rolling the dough
2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or foil.
1. Combine the sugar and almond in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse repeatedly until the mixture is finely ground, but not pasty.
2. Add the chocolate and spices and pulse again until the chocolate is finely ground. Add the egg whites and pulse repeatedly until the dough starts to form a ball.
3. Invert the bowl to a work surface covered with sugar and carefully remove the blade. Press the dough out to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Streak the top of the dough with a fork to stripe it.
4. Use a heart, star, or other decorative cutter to cut out the Brunsli and place them an inch apart of the prepared pans. Press any scraps back together, streak again and cut more Brunsli. Continue until all the dough is used.
5. Allow the Brunsli to dry for 2 hours at room temperature.
6. About 20 minutes before you intend to bake the Brusnli, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
7. After the oven has preheated, place the pans in the oven and lower the heat to 300 degrees. Bake the Brusnli for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until they become matte in appearance and slightly firm – they will become more firm as they cool.
8. Cool the Brunsli on the pans on racks.
9. Store them in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover between sheets of wax paper.
“The name of these cookies literally means ‘little Milanesi.’ I have no idea what the derivation might be, but they may be descended from an Italian cookie.”
Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter used
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 pinch salt
2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or foil
1. For the dough, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
2. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift he flour over the butter mixture, thoroughly folding it in with a rubber spatula.
3. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a 10-inch square, about 1/2-inch thick. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and chill it for at least 2 hours, or until it is firm. The dough may be made several days ahead.
4. When you are ready to roll out the cookies, make the egg wash. Whisk all the ingredients together and strain them into a measuring or other cup.
5. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut the square into quarters. Place one of the quarters on a lightly floured work surface and return the remaining ones to the refrigerator.
7. Lightly flour the dough and gently press it with a rolling pin to soften it slightly. Roll the dough to a 6-inch square. Use a fork to streak the top of the dough in a series of straight stripes about 1/16-inch deep. Cut the dough into 2-inch rounds or diamonds with a lightly floured cutter. Arrange the Mailaenderli on the prepared pans about an inch apart in all directions. Repeat with the remaining dough. At the end re-roll the scraps to make more cookies.
8. After all the cookies are cut, paint them carefully with the egg wash.
9. Place the pans of cookies in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, or until they are pale golden and firm.
10. Cool on the pans on racks.
11. Store the Mailaenderli in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover between sheets of wax paper.