Among my German friends, there may be no Christmas cookie more popular than the beautiful Zimtsterne: thick and chewy star-shaped cookies topped with a drift of white meringue that shatters under your teeth. Just the mention of them never fails to elicit deep longing sighs and a faraway look in people’s eyes. Flavored only with cinnamon and the naturally toasty flavor of roasted almonds, Zimtsterne are a study in what is possible with simple ingredients and a little elbow grease. Making Zimtsterne requires some stamina. The dough is sticky, fine motor skills are required for painting on the meringue, and you need lots of counter space to let them dry overnight before baking them. But the effort is all worthwhile. There is much debate about how to bake Zimtsterne so that the cookie stays soft and chewy and the meringue as white as possible. I’ve tried every method out there, but find that drying the cookies overnight and then baking them briefly is the best way.
1. Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With the motor running on medium-high speed, begin whisking the egg whites. Pour in the sugar slowly and whip for 7 minutes, or until the mixture is glossy and stiff. Measure out 3⁄4 cup and set aside.
2. Fold 2 1/4 cups/225g of the ground almonds and the cinnamon into the remaining egg whites mixture. Add more of the ground almonds, up to 3 cups/300g total, until you have a firm, only slightly sticky dough. Depending on the precise size of your egg whites and the grind of your almonds, you may not need the full amount of almonds. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough, leaving the plastic wrap underneath it. Place a second piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough and roll it out to 1/4-inch/6mm thickness. Discard the top piece of plastic wrap. Using a 1 1/2-inch/4cm cookie cutter in the shape of a star, cut out the cookies, dipping the cutter in cold water every so often to keep the dough from sticking. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.
4. Using a pastry brush and a spoon or a toothpick, spread the reserved meringue evenly over each star, taking care to drag it out to the points of the stars. Then let the cookies sit at a cool room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The meringue will be dry to the touch.
5. Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C and position a rack in the bottom of the oven. One baking sheet at a time, bake the cookies for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the meringue is set but still snowy white.
6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a rack. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet. Repeat with the second baking sheet. Stored in an airtight container, Zimtsterne will keep for up to 1 month.
Reprinted with permission from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss, copyright 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC