Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cinnamon Christmas Stars, aka Zimtsterne

This is one of those recipes which is not outrageously expensive, and yet is outrageously tasty and outrageously easy to make – the latter especially so, if you have a young'un or two around the house who happen to be willing to help out with the cutting and slathering with icing. But even without my having assistance of Ilex, 

this Christmas treat is one I'll be making regularly…possibly even outside the holiday season. It's that good. Plus, it's gluten-free by its original design, so there is that, as well. I don't have to worry about remembering to adapt my freezer-full of flours to meet the current needs.

I do recommend bringing out your most accurate kitchen scales before you get started, too. Not only is it what the original recipe called for, but I find that – as professional bakers have assured me – dry ingredients may vary wildly in their density from one milling to the next, so one cup of something one day may be 10% heavier than the next day, so you'll have less predictable results.

However, I will need to study further, to see if they can be made with alternative sweeteners, for my other friends who are on low- or no-sugar-added diets. But, as a certain non-German woman once said, "I'll think about that tomorrow." I'll finish eating giving away these, first.


Meanwhile, here's what we have: starting with this recipe, and adapting slightly to our kitchen. 

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

3 egg whites
250 grams powdered sugar
360 grams finely ground almonds or almond flour (I used non-blanched for this batch)
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Fresh, finely-grated zest of 2 small lemons (about 2 Tablespoons)
Pinch of salt

Make sure your mixer bowl and whisk attachment are completely clean and free from any oils before you start. (I recommend washing, drying, and then taking a paper towel or cloth moistened with cider vinegar to wipe it clean again, to be doubly sure.)

In that bowl of your stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they become foamy.

Begin adding the powdered sugar in small batches (a few tablespoons at a time) while the mixer is running. Beat on high until the meringue is very shiny, but before very stiff peaks form. This may take ten minutes or more, so be patient.

Remove 50 g of the meringue (about 1/3 – 1/2 cup) to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Next, in a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds (or almond flour), cinnamon, lemon zest and salt. 

Fold dry ingredients into the remaining meringue mixture until just evenly distributed, and no more. (If it feels really thick and dense, don't worry. This recipe bakes up light, almost airy cookies, despite its feeling like you're stirring nearly-hardened concrete.)

Tip the contents out onto a large sheet of parchment paper sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with some more powdered sugar and top with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll out the dough to just under 1 centimeter thick. Refrigerate 1/2 hour to an 1 hour, to help firm up dough and reduce its stickiness.

Once sufficiently chilled, remove from refrigerator, peel off the top sheet of parchment and sprinkle again with a bit of powdered sugar.  Coat your star cookie cutter with nonstick spray and wipe excess away. Then, dipping your cutter into powdered sugar each time, cut out the stars and place fairly close together on a parchment-covered cookie sheet (they don't expand very much). Continue to collect the dough into a bowl and roll out until all is used up.

Preheat the oven to 300° F., or 150º C.

Using an offset spatula or a knife (I use a tapered icing spatula, for more precise application on the star points)  spread the remaining meringue mixture evenly across all stars, making sure it doesn’t drip down the sides. Place in oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them --  you don't want the meringue to brown, just cook and crisp up a little.

Let cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to completely cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.

Makes about 50-75 6cm (roughly 2 inch) 2-bite stars. Larger cookie cutters will, obviously, make fewer cookies, and be slightly less challenging to get unstuck from the pointy parts of the cutter. 

Update: I've given a try to substituting an artificial sweetener for another batch (1 cup Splenda instead of the sugar). The flavor is as good, and the cookies are as tender as the regular ones (if a wee tad drier on the tongue), but it seems that the Splenda-based meringue topping, when left to sit in the refrigerator for a while, tends to curdle. This may mean I over-beat the eggs (easy enough to do when you're whipping eggs without sugar), but I think I'd like to give a try to separating out one egg white in advance – or measure out prepackaged egg white – and whipping that up with sweetener, only after I've allowed the dough to chill, and I'm ready to cut the stars.
They're not as pretty as the real sugar version, but I'll have no qualms about noshing on them, or sharing with others…if I have to.

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