Zimtsterne – German Christmas Cookies

Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Christmas cookies are quite possibly my favorite thing about Christmas. I love that certain foods are very specific to certain times of the year. On Christmas Eve most years, my family and I bake a batch of sugar cookies and spend the afternoon decorating them in the most perfect way.

My sister always has the most precise and beautiful intricate creations.  My brother will normally spend the entire time decorating one prized cookie that usually looks too good to eat.  My husband usually piles on as much icing as the cookie can handle because he likes the more icing to cookie ratio. For me, usually the first few start out quite well, then I start getting more and more fed up and aim for quantity not quality! It’s always a struggle for the perfectionist in me. However, this afternoon is definitely one of my favorite traditions and the results are usually too good to eat!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

This year we’ve been trying lots of different German Christmas cookies.  My favorite so far has been this Zimtsterne. These are traditional cookies that are found in bakeries, markets and supermarkets all over at this time of year.  Translated directly as Cinnamon Stars, they are a meringue based cookie with ground almonds and flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest.  It’s quite simple really and very delicious.  They are however, a pain to make!

The meringue base makes things extra sticky. Usually only copious amounts of powdered sugar can help to solve this problem. Then once you have managed to cut out the stars, the meringue topping must be evenly spread on top of each one. Though for others this might not be a huge issue, for me it’s super time consuming. I like everything to be perfect and that can only be achieved with time! In the end, they didn’t turn out perfect, but they were very delicious! I like to think that the rough edges add to the charm!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Zimtsterne

Makes about 40 -50 stars

  • 3 egg whites
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 360 g ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 2 small lemons
  • pinch of salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat egg whites until foamy with the whisk attachment. Make sure your bowl is completely clean and free from any oils before you start. Begin adding the powdered sugar in small batches while the mixer is running. Beat until the meringue is very shiny, but before very stiff peaks form.

In a small bowl, remove 50 g of the meringue. Cover and refrigerate.

Next, fold in the ground almonds, cinnamon, zest and salt into the remaining meringue mixture. Fold until evenly distributed, but be careful not to over mix. 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 till about 1cm thick. Place the whole thing in the refrigerator to cool for a 1/2 hour to an 1 hour. This step is not completely necessary, but things can get very sticky so it makes life a bit easier!

Once the dough is cooled, you can begin cutting. Remove the top sheet of parchment and sprinkle again with a bit of powdered sugar. Dipping your star cookie cutter into powdered sugar each time, cut out the stars and place onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Continue to collect the dough into a bowl and roll out until all is used up.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.Using a offset spatula or a knife, spread the remaining meringue mixture evenly across all stars making sure it doesn’t drip down the sides. Place into the oven and bake fore 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them towards the end of 1o minutes so the meringue doesn’t begin to brown.

Let cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy when fully cooled and store in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.

Valencia, Spain

Valencia Anjanee Four years ago while planning our wedding, the one factor we did not take into consideration was that October is quite possibly the worst month to travel. Just about everywhere is in the midst of changing seasons, experiencing monsoons or hurricanes or is just plain cold.  This unfortunate decision has made our lives quite difficult when considering where to visit for each of our anniversaries.  The first year we celebrated our anniversary, we decided that we love nothing more than travelling (other than each other of course) and that we would always take some time to get away together to celebrate our nuptials.

 Valencia Santiago CalatravaSo this year, we procrastinated like crazy (as we normally do when we have to plan a holiday) and waited till the ultimate last minute to choose somewhere to go.  We wanted sand and sun. Then we wanted an extreme cultural experience (the kinds that are found in the eastern part of the world). Later we decided that we would forgo the culture and opt for luxury. As per usual, we were incredibly indecisive.

 Valencia Santiago CalatravaFinally, with time dwindling and with it, the options too, we decided on Valencia. Why not we said. It has luxury, it has culture, it has sand, it has sun, it also has amazing architecture. We booked it. I’m really glad we did. Valencia was precisely what we needed.

Normally, in the interest of trying to balance experiencing a place and being able to see as much as possible, we stay usually only 2-3 days in any given city. It’s almost always never enough (unless you are in Venice, then 1 day will do!) but since our time in Europe is short, we sacrifice.  However, this trip, we spent 6 days in Valencia and were so happy we did.

ValenciaIt’s not one of those cities where there is loads of sites to see or hundreds of recommended restaurants that need to be tried.  Rather it’s just one of those in between.  It’s a beautiful city with a good amount of places to visit and good food to be eaten. But it’s also one of those places where you can quite happily say that all you accomplished was a huge pan of seafood Paella, a couple bottles of wine and a long siesta. Having this much time let us leisurely experience the culture of this little gem in Spain.

Valencia AnjaneeQuite possibly one of my favorite parts is the Turia Gardens. Once an old riverbed that was diverted around the city, this area has been transformed in a beautiful park full of sculptures, fountains, opportunities for exercise and hundreds of varieties of trees.  All of it ending with the famous Santiago Calatrava buildings. The perfect place to run (that is if I were a runner) or just inhale the outdoors.

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Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich

So theres an airline here in Germany that offers super cheap flights to big cities all over Europe.  But the catch is this – you are only given a list of cities that you could potentially end up going to.  You only find out which one it will be after you have paid in full for the trip.

For a Type- A person like myself, this is very unnerving.  It completely goes against my need to plan.  It leaves me anxious and pacing for the 5 minutes it takes to fill in your flight details and pay. Those 5 minutes feel like forever.  Things like – “Is this a good idea,” “what happens if we end up at the worst one,” go through my head. In reality, there really is no downside.  The worst that could happen is that you end up in a city like Barcelona or Budapest. See…not bad at all.  This is how I talk myself through the ordeal.

Zurich

So after much deliberation, we decided to go through with the whole thing.  We ended up with Zurich. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit disappointed. Barcelona and Budapest held so much promise.  However, whats done was done.  It was booked and there was no turning back.

Zurich

Turns out that Zurich is actually amazing. Since I had no expectations, everything was great.  The city is charming, the restaurants are amazing, and the views are phenomenal. We had an lovely time wandering around – though we soon figured out you would need a serious amount of money if you were considering living there.

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Tomato, Tuna & Pickled Onion Salad

Tomato and Tuna Salad

As the weather is getting slightly cooler here, I’m dreaming about the beach in Barcelona. Not only the sun and sand, but the gorgeous fresh seafood we had there. This recipe is inspired by an amazing appetizer we had at one of my favorite restaurants Bravo while in this perfect city on holiday.

This is a super easy salad to whip up with very little effort at all.   Its perfect when tomatoes are in season since they are super juicy and flavourful. Quick pickling these onions takes a bit of the bite out and is a perfect compliment to the flaky tuna.  All topped on a bed of peppery arugula, this is great for a summer lunch or a lazy Sunday. Best of all,  it all comes together in about 10 minutes or less.

Tomato and Tuna Salad

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European Road Trip: Day 7- 10 The Breathtaking Swiss Alps

Alps1sm

As horribly sad it was to leave our poolside luxury by Lake Como, I was beyond excited to get started with our next adventure – The Swiss Alps. Mountains of legends, skiing and of course,  yodeling!

We set out in our summer dresses and shorts and left behind beautiful sunshine, soon realizing we were rather inappropriately dressed for the weather to come.  We zig zagged our way up and down mountains for hours drifting in and out of the clouds, ears popping the whole time. We ate a ridiculous amount of cookies to settle our stomachs (whats a road trip without snacks?) and stopped often to soak in the views.  There is really nothing like standing in a meadow surrounded by snow capped mountains listening to the glacial water flow down to rivers.

Alps2sm

After quite a long and visually exhausting ride we made it to our lodge set in a lush green valley surrounded by some of the largest ranges in the Alps.  We spend the rest of the night ooing and ahhing over the perfect views while lounging inside the outdoor heated pool.

After a refreshing and relaxing evening, the next day we set out to the famous Gimmelwald area for some hiking.  We took a super scary cable car up to the top and set off on our day long hike.

Alps3sm

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European Road Trip: Day 3 Alpine Passes

Alpine Pass_1

Alpine Pass_2

Early the next morning, we left Innsbruck behind and set off for a long day of driving.  Originally, the drive was to take 4, maybe 5 hours.  As often the case with road trips, this one took far far longer.  12 hours to be exact.  This trip was not for the faint of heart.  Nor the car sick individual.

Alpine Pass_3

Alpine Pass_4

Though it was the longest leg of our trip, it was by far the most breathtaking.  The minute we started driving into the mountains I was in awe of the snowcapped peaks and vast green valleys.  As per usual, we stopped often to breathe in the fresh mountain air and attempt to capture even a fraction of the beauty around us.

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