Warning: Do not involve any 2 1/2 year olds in making these biscuits.
I was trying to get into the Christmas spirit early by doing some trial runs on stuff that will go in this year's gift hampers. I thought 'Hmm, why not make some of my beloved 'Zimtsterne', haven't had them since leaving Zurich a couple of years ago and these biscuits definitely make the holidays worth celebrating. Little did I know that after this little practice, I would be tempted to gift tins of Spam instead in order to spare myself the trouble.
My friends at Google offered a few recipes. The main ingredients were consistent enough- egg whites, icing sugar, almond meal. However, the ratios were all over the place as were the baking temperature and durations. So of course, I do the sensible thing and 'fuse' together a few recipes based on those which came with the best-looking photos. I might add that a couple of these recipes were in German. My second mistake. I am still in denial about my suspect command of the language.
Anyhow, I contracted my daughter to be my assistant. Her enthusiasm to help almost melted my heart. The beautiful picture of mother and daughter, side by side in culinary bonding dissipated all too quickly when a cup of icing sugar was knocked off the table. Deep breaths, a broom and some rags, and we were on our way again.
Finally the dough was ready. One recipe actually warned that the dough is quite delicate and that the biscuits are quite messy to make. Major understatement (upon hindsight). So, although the dough looked quite runny, I foolishly tipped it out onto the table for kneading. Before I could even say anything, the little girl dove in there with both hands and started shrieking when she couldn't shake off the sticky mess that covered her up to the elbows. More deep breaths and mentally humming 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' got me thru somehow and after adding flour (which wasn't in any of the recipes), we managed to get a workable dough.
When the biscuits were finally in the oven, my husband, all too aware of all the prep and cleaning a couple of trays of these biscuits entailed, sensitively remarked 'Those biscuits are only like 2Francs ($2.50) a kilo from the shops'. Thanks, honey. You'll have to travel 10,000 miles now though to get to those shops. So hah!
He redeemed himself later on. After one bite of the fluffy and chewy gems that came out of the oven, he gingerly declared 'These are not bad'. Now, anyone who knows my darling boy will recognise this as a compliment of the highest order. Ah, bless his heart.
The biscuits were indeed delicious. The cinnamon and lemon zest are the perfect festive flavours for the nutty meringues.
Ok, maybe I won't be giving out Spams after all.
Cinnamon Stars (or Hearts, or Moons, etc)
makes around 40 biscuits
4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
300g icing sugar, sifted
200g ground almond
200g ground hazelnut *
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp cinnamon
1Tbsp lemon juice
1/2c to 3/4 c plain flour
Preheat oven to 220deg Celsius.
Whisk egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.
Slowly add the icing sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is quite stiff. Put aside half a cup of the meringue mix.
Add the ground nuts, lemon zest, cinnamon and juice. Carefully incorporate using a palette knife.
Add the flour in small amounts until you get a workable dough.
Turn out onto a floured surface and pat flat to around 8mm thick.
Cut shapes out of the dough using a cookie cutter and transfer biscuits onto a tray lined with baking paper.
Brush the biscuits with the reserved meringue mixture.
Bake in the oven for around 5minutes or until the icing just starts to colour.
The biscuits will be quite soft when they first come out so do not handle.
Leave to cool on the tray.
These will keep in an airtight container for around 2 weeks.
*The biscuits can be made with all ground almond instead of mixing with hazelnut.
Udated 24/12/2007- after experimenting a little bit more with these cookies, here's some tips:
1. Refrigerate the cookies for 30mins before baking. This prevents the
icing from browning too quickly
2. Bake at 150deg C for around 10-12 minutes. The icing stays white.
I do believe my friends would love these and they will certainly make a great addition to any Christmas hamper. I am sending this first batch of cookies over to Zlamushka for the fun 'A Spoonful of Christmas' event she is hosting. Be sure to check out the round up for lovely edible Christmas gift ideas.