Each year in early December, Yoggi’s kitchen would be filled for days with the smell of baking. His Yuletide gifts to family and friends outside Berlin were invariably boxes of Weihnachtsplätzchen (Christmas cookies).
The German tradition of baking and sharing cookies at Christmas goes back to medieval times, particularly with the introduction of spices, nuts and dried fruit from the Middle East and my part of the world – Asia.
What would Lebkuchen (gingerbread) be without ginger, Mandelbrot (almond bread) without almonds, or Aachener Printen without cinnamon, coriander and cloves?
Yoggi had me try baking Berliner Brot (Berlin bread), a recipe from his part of west Germany, which contains both spices and nuts and has a Lebkuchen consistency. We are not sure why it’s named after Berlin but it is actually a homage to the Italian biscotti.
A lot of fun was also had making the more traditional butter cookie-type Terrassen Plätzchen (Terraced Cookies). Their name comes from having the cookie-cutter shaped biscuits stacked on top of each another.
Interesting fact about cookie-cutters from Lynne Olver’s wonderful The Food Timeline: in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the importation of cheap but fancy cookie-cutters into the US from Germany that shifted the emphasis from taste to shape when it came to Christmas cookies.
Recipe: Berliner Brot
125 g margarine or butter
500 g sugar
125 g cocoa (unsweetened)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
125 g coconut or ground almonds / mixed nuts
500 g flour
8 g baking powder
1. Beat butter, sugar and eggs till light and fluffy.
2. Beat in cocoa, cinnamon and cloves, then add the coconut.
3. Sift together the flour and baking powder and fold into the mix to make a dough.
4. Stand the dough for 50 – 60 minutes.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.
6. Prepare the glazing by mixing the icing sugar and lime juice.
7. Form a roll of about 3cm in diameter. Make sure that no air is trapped. Use your fingers to flatten it slightly.
8. Bake it in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Use a skewer to check that it is cooked.
Remove the bread and leave it to cool. When it is still slightly warm, glaze the top.
Recipe: Terrassen Plätzchen
300 g flour
6 g baking powder
100 g sugar
1 packet of vanilla sugar
150 g margarine or butter
½ tsp cinnamon
2 – 4 drops rum essence or vanilla essence
1. Beat butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla sugar and spices.
2. Sift together the flour and baking powder and fold into the mix to make a dough.
3. Refrigerate the dough for 30 – 40 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 180 – 190°C.
5. Roll out the dough evenly to a thickness of 1 – 1.5cm
6. Cut out shapes with a cookie-cutter.
7. Bake it in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Use a skewer to check that it is cooked.
8. When they just begin to turn golden, remove the cookies and leave to cool. When they are still slightly warm, spread jam on them and stick them on top of each other.
>> The Food Timeline has a lovely history of Christmas cookies, including references to other publications. The note above on cookie-cutters is from ‘The Christmas Cook: Three Centuries of American Yuletide Sweets’, William Woys Weaver [Harper Perennial:New York] 1990 (p. 106).
>> The German Wikipedia has a neat description of Berliner Brot.
This is part of my series on Yoggis Hausmannskost (Yoggi’s Plain Cooking), a collection of German recipes and associated thoughts. The recipes are those of my dear friend and great cook, Yoggi. Our cooking sessions – and long chats – were instrumental in my picking up and practising German and German culture.