German Cinnamon Stars – Zimtsterne
Cinnamon Stars Video (scroll down for printable recipe)
I’d be lying my ass off if I told you these were in any way “easy” or “foolproof”. “Pain in the ass” and “kind of frustrating” might be better descriptives. Fortunately, “really really good” and “very unusual” and “naturally gluten-and-dairy free” are also proper descriptives that save this recipe’s reputation. Cinnamon stars, or Zimtsterne, are a traditional German Christmas cookie. Like a meringue crammed with nuts, the texture of these is similar to an almond macaroon, but with a hefty dose of ground cinnamon added. Everyone I made these for (even the messed up, early batches that looked more like turds than stars) remarked on their striking texture: chewy, dense cookies with the crispy shell of an egg white meringue icing on top. I really don’t think I’ve ever seen another cookie recipe like these.
The history is a mystery — WHY MUST THEY BE SHAPED LIKE STARS?? — except for the obvious things like, almonds are expensive, cinnamon is expensive, what better way to celebrate Christmas than by eating really expensive things? It’s a universal truth. But the star thing, I never could find an answer for. I’d like to know, so if you have an inkling, please leave me a comment below.
Some tips on making zimtsterne:
- Give yourself plenty of time and have some snacks ready. The first time will probably be very annoying and you should not attempt on an empty stomach or you are liable to to end up in a tantrum fit on the kitchen floor.
- Have extra sugar and extra almond meal on hand. The recipe is fickle and the measurements change dependent of the humidity, the size and temperature of your eggs, and how much Schnaps you had in your breakfast smoothie. You’ll need more sugar for shaping the dough and you may need more almond meal if your dough is too soft.
- This is an expensive recipe. You’ll spend $5-6 for 16-20 cookies. Just accept it now. It might be hard if you are as penny-pinching and miserly as I am, but if you come to terms before you even buy the almond meal, you will be happier later on.
- But almond meal. Just buy it. Don’t try to grind your own in your shitty old food processor. You’ll end up with almond butter and then you will be REALLY pissed. Not pissed at me, though, because I’m the one who told you not to do that, remember? If you must grind your own, my advice is start with slivered or sliced almonds and process them in two batches, adding about 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar to each batch to aid in free movement through the blades. Pulse several times until almond meal is made. It’s better to have a few larger bits of almond than almond paste, so be judicious in your pulsing.
- If it comes time to roll the dough and it’s just WAY too soft and there ain’t no way in hay-ell that’s gonna be happening, don’t toss it! Just plop little cinnamon turds out on your baking sheet and spread them gently with the back of a spoon. Top with meringue and decorate with some slivered almonds and they will still taste great and even look half-way decent after all.
And with that, I set you free! Free to make cookies and make a mess but hopefully not make a mess of your cookies. Frohe Weihnachten!
Cinnamon Stars Recipe — Printable!Print
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 30 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1½ cups sifted powdered sugar (plus more for rolling)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ pound almond meal
Optional: ½ cup slivered almonds for garnish
Beat egg whites on high speed until foamy and add the lemon juice. Continue beating until medium-stiff peaks form.
With the beaters on, gradually add the sugar and cinnamon and continue beating until glossy, stiff peaks form.
Remove about ½ cup of the mixture to another small bowl and set aside. (If baking cookies same day, they may stay uncovered at room temperature. Otherwise, cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate.)
To the remainder of the eggs, add the almond meal and mix to make a soft dough. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour (or a few days)
Preheat oven to 275 F
Sprinkle a sheet of parchment paper generously with powdered sugar and plop the dough onto it then sprinkle with more sugar and lay another sheet of paper on top. Pat out gently to about a ⅓ inch thick and cut into stars. Remove excess dough from around the stars and lift paper onto a baking sheet.
Transfer to greased cookie sheets and glaze with reserved meringue (from step 2). Garnish with slivered almonds if you like.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes until meringue top is set, but still white. Remove from oven and let cool completely on baking sheets.
Store airtight tins.