German Christmas cookies are more varied than just gingerbread. Yes lots of them use spices, but there is so much variety. Which of these delicious traditional Christmas cookies will you try first?!
Many countries have a tradition of baking special cookies as part of their Christmas traditions. The origins are believed to be due to the fact that ingredients like sugar were expensive and so reserved for special occasions.
As spices were discovered in Asia and brought back to Europe, they were incorporated in to treats like Christmas cookies. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and others became a core part of Holiday baking.
The German cookie tradition
Germany has many Christmas traditions, and cookies are a big part of them. People will often take cookies with them when they go to visit during the festive season. You may also be served a cookie along with a cup of coffee of Gluhwein (German mulled wine) in cafes, as well as homes. Although I more often had a slice of stollen on my saucer when I lived in Germany, but I wasn't complaining about that either!
While many people bake their own, you'll also see lots of Christmas cookies for sale at German Christmas markets (the Christkindlmarkt). From the various markets I have visited, elaborately decorated gingerbread (lebkuchen) and pfeffernusse seem to be market favorites.
Why do people build gingerbread houses?
German baking traditions very much incorporate the use of spices, with gingerbread the perfect example. Building gingerbread houses became popular after the Grimm Brothers published their collection of Fairy Tales.
Hansel and Gretel's story inspired people to create their own candy-laden gingerbread house. It's a tradition that has spread to other countries, and a fun activity with kids, in case you want to try! Just be aware, the gingerbread used for houses generally has a higher flour content than your typical 'eating' gingerbread to make it firmer so may taste a little different.
You may not know, however, quite how varied German Christmas cookies can be. While many use some of the similar spicing to gingerbread, many incorporate only one main spice and have different shapes. Take a look at the list below!
Traditional German Christmas Cookies
Lebkuchen are one of the most classic German Christmas cookies flavored with a mix of spices and nuts. They are almost always glazed, either with a plain glaze or chocolate. (Recipe here from Saving Room for Dessert.)
These are also essentially a variation on gingerbread. The name literally translates as "pepper nuts" as these are highly spiced little bites, dusted with powdered sugar. (Recipe here from If you Give a Blonde a Kitchen.)
There are many more variations on gingerbread, but this is a fairly classic combination of flavors and what most people would think of these days when you say gingerbread. This recipe uses butter and a blend of spices without being anything too unusual. (Recipe here from Cooking with Carlee.)
Single spice cookies
These cookies are not to be confused with gingerbread. These have more in common with sugar cookies but with ginger mixed into the dough. The dough is really easy to work with and cut into festive shapes. They're typically decorated with a chocolate glaze.
The name says it all in these cookies. These cinnamon flavored cookies are cut in to star shapes then glaze with a kind of meringue frosting. (Recipe here from Christina's Cucina.)
These cookies are made with ground hazelnuts for a deliciously unusual nutty flavor. You can leave them plain or decorate with a little frosting.
OK, so technically these are Swiss rather than German, but they are from the German-speaking part! These little cookies are a tasty mix of chocolate, almond and some spices and are naturally gluten-free.
You'll find various forms of macaroon and macaron-like cookies in German cookie selections and these hazelnut meringues are one of them. Light, nutty and easy to make. (Recipe here from Earth, Food and Fire.)
The name of these cookies literally translates as "house friends" or friends of the house. I don't know if that's because you'll want to invite them in to your home! Instead of being nuts in the cookie, there's a layer of marzipan on top of one of the layers of cookies, along with apricot jam sandwiching layers and chocolate on top. (Recipe here from Lavender and Macarons.)
Vanilla Cookies (or mixed flavor)
These cookies are flavored with vanilla and shaped into little crescents. Then they are rolled in powdered sugar (ideally also vanilla) so can be a little messy to eat! Arguably these are Austrian in origin, but you'll find them in Germany too. (Recipe here from Curious Cuisiniere.)
Spritz cookies are not only found in Germany, but as far and wide as Italy and Scandinavia. The name, however, is German from "spritzen" meaning to squirt as they are commonly made using a cookie press. They come in a few flavors, usually nuts like hazelnut or almond, or sometimes a plainer vanilla, and can also be colored and/or frosted. (Recipe here from Saving Room for Dessert.)
What are your baking traditions? Which of these cookies have you tried, and which will you try next?
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