There's no point in telling you these cookies were simple to make. They weren't. But they ARE a true European Christmas cookie; interesting, frustrating, unusual and yes, tasted wonderful, but will I make them again? Well....maybe. And compared with some of the other photos I found online of these, all I can say is: I had a bad baking AND camera day. Oh well, I'm going to post this anyway. They were worth the trouble.
First of all, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, The Many Meals of Rose Bakery is a gem of a cookbook.
And that's where I found this recipe...they called it Almond, Cinnamon and Meringue Biscuits. But what they really are is Zimtsterne, or erstesternen ("first stars"), a reference to the heavenly signs indicating the end of a fast day. They are traditionally served by German Jews at the meal following Yom Kippur. You can read more about them here, here and here. European bakeries make them only during the holidays, rather like my mother's favorite Christmas cookie, Springerle. And they are usually made in star shape. I made them round. For one thing, I didn't have a small star cookie cutter and for another working those star points with that dough and meringue was beyond me. Perhaps with practice.....
This is what David Lebovitz says about them (and he doesn't make his own, he buys them):
"There’s just something about these chewy little stars, spiced with lots of cinnamon, then brushed with a glaze of royal icing that provides just the right bit of creamy sweetness in contrast to the chewy cookie below."
So here's the thing. The dough is difficult to work with and I made two different batches, correcting the original recipe a little to make it slightly easier to work with. Still....not the easiest cookie dough to roll out. But as I said, after the first bite, it was worth the effort!
Bench note: many recipes call for 1/2 cup candied citrus peel which I omitted 'cause I just don't like it.
Adapted from Breakfast Lunch Tea, The Many Meals of Rose Bakery
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
juice of 1/2 lemon and grated zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
First, make the meringue. Beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. Then very gradually add the sugar. When the mixture is very stiff, beat in the lemon juice. Set aside 6 ounces of the meringue for the topping, covering with a damp cloth. Place the rest in a bowl.
Add the ground almonds, cinnamon and lemon zest and mix by hand. Mix until you have a dough-like paste. If it is too sticky to handle, add more ground almonds, by the tablespoon, until it is manageable. If the dough crumbles or falls apart, add a few drops of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the reserved egg whites. When the dough has reached the proper consistency refrigerate for one hour.
Butter a baking tray and line it with parchment paper.
Then dust a pastry board lightly with granulated sugar. Shape the dough into a flat round and dust the surface lightly with sugar. Roll the dough out into a rectangle 3/8 inch thick. Add more sugar on the board as necessary.
Cut into desired shapes and place on the baking tray.
Remove the cloth from the reserved egg whites. Use a metal spatula to smooth an even coating of the meringue over the entire surface of your cookie, just enough to cover it completely with white. To smooth the surface further, dip the spatula in hot water and run it across the glaze.
Leave to dry on the prepared tray for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the biscuits for about 10 minutes until the bases are lightly golden. The tops should remain white and the bases must be soft and moist. And BTW? Keeping the tops from browning is another tricky part!