German Sweets for the Holidays and Beyond

          Though right now I can’t even travel to Chicago to do some holiday shopping because of the pandemic, I did manage a trip to Southwest German to visit several of their beautiful Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Markets) and take a holiday cookie making class.

          Well, kind of. The trip was a virtual cooking class and I’ve been doing a lot of those lately. It is, of course, nowhere close to being there but still when you get to the point where going to the grocery store becomes a big adventure, it’s really a great way to explore—and plan for the time when we might be able to journey again.

          And even though the holiday is long past, making the cookies and thinking of the beauty of the Christkindlesmarkts is a fine thing to do in gloomy February when all the excitement leading up to Christmas is long past and winter seems forever.

          Southwest Germany is comprised for the most part of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and is bordered on the west by France, Switzerland to the south, Bavaria to the east and Hesse to the north. It encompasses the Black Forest, large cities like Heidelberg, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart and a plethora of towns and villages that are so neatly kept and so very beautiful like Schwetzingen where there’s the Schwetzingen Palace & Gardens and Wiblingen, the home to an 11th century abbey. One thing you quickly realize about Germany is that almost every village no matter how small has a castle. And abbeys and monasteries dating back a millennium are common. New to them is anything built less than 400 years ago.

          Before COVID-19, late November and December is the time for the fantastic Christmas markets that have been part of the German holiday season since the 1300s. But of course, this is the age of COVID-19, so not only is my cooking class virtual but so are my visits to the Christmas markets. One plus, I save a lot of money by not being able to actually shop.

          Wendy Jo Peterson who, between military moves and following her husband’s career around the world, racked up a lot of miles working with children and adults across the spectrum from populations with special needs to elite athletes. Culinary nutrition and reaching optimal wellness through the foods we eat is one of her main drivers and she’s clocked in a lot of hours teaching, at hospital, working a computer and presenting the latest in nutritional science. When she lived in Stuttgart, Peterson immersed herself in cooking traditions and techniques and is bringing all that to our virtual classroom.

          We can either cook along with Peterson or just watch and I’ve decided I want to cook along with.

          To save time, Peterson has prepared her dough ahead of the class and so did those of us who are going to be cooking with her. Our first cookie is a yeast dough shaped into the form of the little tan man, known  In North Baden and the Electoral Palatinate, as Dambedei, in South Baden as Grätti or Baselmann and in other regions as Weck or Klausenmann. I hope I’m not going to be quizzed on the names of the cookies because I just won’t be able to do it.

But no matter the name, Dambedei’s instantly recognizable to children—and adults—because of his characteristic appearances. All little tan men have a pointed head, raisin eyes, almond mouth and a button jacket made of nuts.

Dambedei’s origins go back to when people were excluded for whatever reason from worshipping in the church on Bishop Nikolaus von Myra’s remembrance day. Instead the blessed bread is served to them in the shape of a man.

“The other cookies we’ll be making are Spitzbuben, also known as Hildabrötchen which are named after the Grand Duchess Hilda von Nassau, the last Grand Duchess of Baden,” says Peterson. “Supposedly, the popular Grand Duchess enjoyed eating Hilda rolls and often baked them herself. She was buried at the side of her husband, Grand Duke Friedrich II in the grand ducal grave chapel in Karlsruhe. Her ornate coffin can be viewed there.”

We’re also will make Hutzelbrot. If we were in Germany, we’d use dried Hutzel pears but alas I’ll be using  the dried pears sold in the grocery store. The term hutzelig in Swabia translates into wrinkled and that also describes the fruit. As for Swabia, it’s a historic region in southwest Germany. Someone a long time ago told me a Swabian joke. It isn’t very funny but it’s the only one I’ve ever heard. I tell it to the class, but they don’t think it’s funny at all.

Baden-Baden

We also have recipes for Springerle and Lebkuchen so if I do all the cooking, I’ll have a great assortment of German cookies.

Spitzbuben or Hildabrötchen

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup of cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/3 cups of flour

½ cup of raspberry jam for the center

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Cream together sugar and butter. Add vanilla extract and egg until combined. Add flour to form a dough. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap or cover well and put in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Roll out the dough very thinly and cut into circles. Then cut out the shape you like in every other cookie. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool. Heat the jam, spread over the cookies without  cutouts, then place the cutout half on top of the cookie with the jam. Dust with powdered sugar.

Springerle

4 eggs

2 ¼ cups powdered sugar

2 ¼ cup white wheat flour

1 tablespoon of whole anise seed or, if you want, substitute with gingerbread, cardamom, or ginger

Lightly toast the anise beforehand in a pan and then mix it into the batter. This treatment dissolves the essential oils and unfolds its full taste.

All ingredients are placed in a warm room for several hours before starting.

Beat the eggs until frothy, then add the sifted powdered sugar and the tablespoon of anise seed.

Stir this mixture in the food processor for at least 10 minutes.

Then stir in the sifted flour, one tablespoon at a time.

The dough is now a bit soft and needs to rest to have time to shape.

Put the dough in a bowl with a tightly fitting lid and covered with cling wrap, leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12-24 hours.

When you are ready to make the cookies, you cut off a small portion of the dough and immediately cover the rest of the dough again, otherwise it will dry out.

Roll out the dough on the floured baking board 8-10 mm thick. Press the Springerle mold into the lightly powdered dough and cut out the springerle with a dough scraper, pastry wheel or a cookie cutter.

Place the springerle on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and leave to dry for 24 hours in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 285 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the Springerle for approx. 15-18 minutes.

After baking, let the springerle cool, remove from the aluminum foil and store in a cardboard box in a damp place.

Hutzelbrot

2/3 cup each of dried pears plums and figs

¼ cup dried apricots

½ cup raisins

1 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or chopped almonds

1 tablespoons anise seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups rye flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

6 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2 to 4 teaspoons of vanilla

Soak the dried plums, pears, and figs in water overnight or 8 to12 hours. Drain the fruit and roughly chop it. Finely dice the dried apricots. Put all the fruit with raisins, hazelnuts and almonds in a bowl, season with aniseed, cinnamon and cloves, drizzle with lemon juice and mix well.

Mix the flours with baking powder. Beat the eggs with the sugar until frothy. Add the vanilla extract and the fruit and nut mixture. Finally, gradually knead in the flour mixture and knead the mixture well.

Shape the dough into two loaves of bread. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 70-80 minutes. After baking, let cool on a wire rack.

Dambedei

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Ground lemon peel

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 packet (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tbsp canola oil

1 egg yolk

Raisins

Mix wheat flour with lemon zest in a bowl. Warm the milk slightly, add honey and fresh yeast and stir. Add vanilla to the milk and add, along with the canola oil to the flour and mix to form a soft dough, about 5 minutes. Let the dough rise to double its volume in a warm place, knead again by hand and roll out to1/3 of an inch thick.

Cut out 4 Dambedeis each eight inches long, place on two baking sheets lined with baking paper and brush with the egg yolk. Press the golden raisins into the dough as eyes and jacket buttons. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 12 minutes at 395° Fahrenheit.

Lebkuchen

If I get the chance I want to follow the Lebkuchen trail that runs through the Black Forest. Until then, I’ll have to settle for making them at home.  

¾ cup honey

2 cups cane sugar

1 cup orange candied peel

¾ cup lemon candied peel

2/3 cup raisins

1 cup + 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts

5 cups whole meal rye flour

2 ½ cups whole meal spelt flour (can substitute whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

4 to 5 teaspoons gingerbread spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves (ground)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter

Juice and zest of an organic lemon

For painting: 2 egg yolks,  3 tbsp milk

For decorating and cutting: whole peeled almonds and cookie cutters

The day before, heat the honey and cane sugar in a saucepan while stirring. Finely chop the orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and hazelnuts.

Mix rye and whole meal spelt flour, baking soda, gingerbread spice, cinnamon, ground cloves, cocoa powder and the finely chopped orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and finely chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Knead the heated honey with cane sugar, softened butter, lemon zest, juice, and eggs with the flour mixture until it is a very firm, brown dough.

Shape the dough into an elongated roll and let rest in a cold room overnight, in an airtight container.

Preheat the oven to 320° F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Knead the dough well, roll it out on a floured work surface to approximately ¼-inch thick, cut out the gingerbread and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Mix the egg yolk and milk, brush the gingerbread cookies with the egg yolk and milk mixture, decorate with an almond and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

 Place the baked gingerbread cookies on a wire rack to cool, then store in a tin or container. The longer they are stored, for approximately one to two weeks, the better they are.

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