I must confess that I have struggled for years with making Zimtsterne. One of Switzerland’s most popular Christmas cookies, these little cinnamon star cookies have a meringue-like icing… that browns very quickly in the oven, if you’re not watching them closely! If you put on too thin a layer of icing, the chances of browning it are higher. However, if you put on too much icing, it will spill over the edges while it bakes.
The relatively sticky cookie dough also presents a challenge. For me, the perfect version of these cookies has a dry texture on the outside, while staying a bit soft on the inside. Again, it’s easy to under-bake the cookies (leaving them too soft) or over-bake them (making them too hard and likely browning the meringue). After years of testing (no joke!), I have finally found a recipe that I really enjoy. You can make them with ground almonds or hazelnuts, but I prefer them with almonds.
I have garnished these cookies with cranberries and pistachios to give them some color, but these are definitely not traditional accompaniments. These cookies would most likely be served with two other very popular Swiss Christmas cookies: Mailänderli and Basler Brunsli.
Zimtsterne (Étoiles à la cannelle)
Makes about 30 cookies
250 g ground almonds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
zest of half an organic lemon
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
125 g powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon kirsch (or water)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, lemon zest and salt. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer with a balloon whisk or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they become fluffy and form stiff peaks. Then, add in the sifted powdered sugar and continue to beat the mixture for a few minutes until the powdered sugar is completely incorporated and it becomes thick and shiny.
- Add two thirds of the egg white mixture to the large bowl with the ground almonds and other ingredients. Reserve the remaining one-third of this mixture for the meringue icing. Add one tablespoon of kirsch and stir the mixture together until the ingredients are all well combined.
- Put the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to a thickness of about 8 mm (about 1/3 of an inch). Place the dough in the fridge to chill for about 30-60 minutes.
- When dough has fully chilled, cut out star shapes with cookie cutters that have a diameter of about 3 cm (1 ¼ inches). If the dough sticks to the cookie cutters or the rolling pin, you dust them in flour (or gluten-free flour) each time before using them.
- Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put a small dollop of icing in the middle of the cookie. Then use a metal skewer or a toothpick to draw out the meringue icing to the outer edges of the biscuit. Let them rest in the refrigerator while the oven warms up to 200°C / 400°F. Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven; do not let their white topping start to turn brown. After you take them out of the oven, let them rest on the baking sheet for approximately 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.