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Plätzchen, or The Art of Baking German Christmas Cookies

21 Nov

The furniture is in place, internet hooked up, and boxes unpacked (or almost…).  We have arrived in our new place just in time for Christmas.  With a brand new oven to break in, I have spent the weekend getting into the holiday spirit with some baking!

What exactly are Plätzchen?

Plätzchen simply translates in English to Christmas cookies.  They are a German holiday tradition, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. There are many different Plätzchen recipes out there.  Nuremberg is famous for its Lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread cookie.  Actually, nuts and spices are the basis for many Plätzchen recipes.  Even so, Germany takes the art of Christmas cookies far beyond basic ginger bread.

Where to find German Christmas cookies?

Plätzchen can be found everywhere.  Stands have popped up around town selling different kinds of cookies, and bakeries have added colorful packages of them to their counters.  Supermarkets have even been selling the industrial variety since as early as October.

However, if you’re like me and enjoy baking, the homemade variety is definitely the way to go! Recipes abound in cooking magazines, and holiday cookie cutters can be found in stores and markets.  I tried two basic recipes this weekend: Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and Vanillekipferln (vanilla cookies in a half moon/croissant shape).

Tips

Zimtsterne cookies have a meringue type icing, made from egg white and powdered sugar.  If you try these, the trick is to keep a constant eye on your oven.  The preparation time is fairly long, because you have to let the dough chill for 8 hours in the fridge, and then let the cookies dry overnight once you’ve painted the icing onto them.  However, cooking time is quite short, and if you leave your cookies too long, the beautiful white icing will quickly turn brown!  If you have a hot oven, you might need to reduce a recipe’s temperature and/or cooking time.

If you try making Vanillekipferln, be patient when shaping the dough.  It is fairly brittle and not always very easy to work with.  Also, the powdered sugar/vanilla bean coating tends to stick better if the cookies are still warm but not just out of the oven.  I’d suggest letting them sit about 5 minutes before coating them.

 

Homemade "Vanillekipferln"

 

 

Homemade "Zimtsterne"

 

 

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Nuremberg Sausages: A Big Reputation For Some Little Links

15 Oct

Each region in Germany seems to have its own sausage.  How many different sausages can there really be?  As it turns out, after hundreds of years of perfecting the art, German sausages really are as unique as the regions they come from.  So here is the first in a series, as I attempt one-sausage-at-a-time to gain some further insight into regional culture.

How Many Sausages Can You Eat?

Imagine going out to dinner and ordering 6, 8, 10 or even 12 sausages.  The first time I ordered Nuremberg sausages, I could not believe that you had to order a minimum of 6.  That is because I was imagining gigantic American brats, and did not know at the time that the Nürnberger variety look more like breakfast sausage links.  Part of what makes Nuremberg’s sausages unique is their size – only 7-9 cm long!

If you make it in a log cabin, I will buy it.

Traditionally grilled, these versatile little sausages can make for a hardy meal or a filling snack if you are on the go.  In restaurants, they are usually accompanied with potato-salad or sauerkraut.  Throw in a pretzel and a beer if you want to feel authentic.

Another popular way to eat these little pork-based bratwurst is in the form of a sandwich made of a roll (Brötchen) with three sausages and mustard.  This fast-food version is especially popular during festivals.  In fact, it is not even November yet and last weekend I noticed a sausage stand for Nuremberg’s Christmas market was already in place and open for business.  Who cares if Christmas is still three months away?  Who does not want to buy sausage from a stand that looks like a cozy little log cabin?  Although it may be too early for a full-fledged Christmas market, even in the town with one of the world’s most famous ones, I guess this proves that sausage plays by its own rules.