Today is the first Advent and the start of a beloved Christmas tradition in Germany.
Advent are the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, and to mark this
passage of time, many Germans light a new candle on their Advent wreath
every Advent Sunday.
Many families celebrate the Advent Sundays with singing Christmas carols, drinking hot spiced wine, and eating Christmas cookies or a piece of Stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake.
The Advent wreath was "invented" by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a German
pastor, who founded an orphanage in Hamburg in 1833. During the weeks
leading up to Christmas, the children would ask him daily if Christmas
had arrived. To make the wait easier, Wichern came up with his magical
Christmas countdown, creating his first Advent wreath out of an old
cartwheel and small candles.
Since living in Australia I need to mark this date in my calendar otherwise I would simply forget. It's 26 degrees Celsius outside and most of my friends are at the beach right now. Sounds weird for Christmas, doesn't it? Well, at least when you're from Europe.
Anyway, I kicked off the Silly Season with some very traditional German Advent baking and my first batch of Plaetzchen (biscuits) are Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars).
I love Zimtsterne and you'll get them everywhere around this time in Germany.
And here is the recipe for true blue German Christmas cookies:
3 egg whites
250 g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
375 g ground almonds
1. Beat egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold through icing sugar, tablespoon after tablespoon until soft and glossy. Take aside 3 tablespoons of the meringue for later.
2. Add vanilla sugar, cinnamon and almonds and mix through until it all comes together and isn't sticky anymore.
3. Roll dough between two layers of baking paper with a rolling pin to 1cm thick. Rest in refrigerator for about 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 125 degree Celsius. Cut out stars using a cookie cutter and put on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Press cookie cutter in extra icing sugar if the dough sticks to the cutter.
5. Brush stars (or use a wooden skewer if you don't have a small brush) with meringue and bake for 15 min. Decrease oven temperature to 100 degree Celsius and bake for another 10-15 min. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
6. Repeat with dough until all is used.
Light 1 candle (1st Advent) and enjoy with tea or mulled wine (Gluehwein).