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Christmas Cookies from German-speaking Countries

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Some German cookies.

In German-speaking countries, nothing says Christmas like fresh, home-made cookies, to be eaten during Advent and at Christmas itself. These come in a wide variety of shapes and flavours, some complicated, some simple, some to be eaten fresh, some that need to mellow, some made with flour, some without, some light and crispy, some rich and chewy. Every family will have at least six different kinds, often regional specialities. This Entry gives an overview of some traditional favourites.

The tradition of baking pastries at Christmas dates back to the ancient Germans who made them as offerings to their gods. The ancient Celts already put dried fruits into such offerings. The ancient Greeks had a kind of gingerbread and Romans, Egyptians and Sumerians made baking tins out of clay or bronze for these kinds of pastries.

Even in the 19th Century people offered part of the 'sweet bread' to the spirits. The Windfüttern (feeding the wind) was done in Vienna during the Rauhnächte (the twelve nights after the solstice). Flour or cake crumbs were sprinkled on the roofs and people celebrated loudly to drive away the evil spirits.

For a long time pastries were the only Christmas presents. Usually these were bread with dried fruits and gingerbread. Later, doughnuts, pretzels, nougat and other foodstuffs were also sold in Christmas markets. After the advent of sugar beet as a crop more and more sweet pastries became popular.

At the beginning of the 19th Century Christmas trees became popular and these were decorated with sweet pastries and apples.

The development of cookies is also connected with the history of coffee houses. Coffee first became popular during the 18th Century and was often served together with small pastries.

Appenzeller Biberli (Little Beavers)

A rich gingerbread wrapped around a marzipan-like centre.



  • 300g flour (2 cups)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon rose water (optional, but good)
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon (more to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of cardamom
  • 200g honey (½ cup)
  • 100g sugar (½ cup)


  • 80g blanched, ground almonds (about ½ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rose water (if unavailable, do add 1 tablespoon of water for consistency)
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg white


  1. Mix flour, baking powder, and spices. Slowly bring the honey and sugar to a boil, then take the pot off the stove and add the flour mixture bit by bit. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky.

  2. For the filling, mix all the ingredients until the consistency resembles that of marzipan, adding extra almonds as needed.

  3. Roll the dough out thin (5mm) and cut into strips about 6cm wide. Soften the almond mixture by kneading and form it into rolls about as thick as your finger.

  4. Moisten the strips of dough with water, roll around the almond rolls, and press the edges down well. Using a sharp knife, cut into triangular wedges (in a zigzag across the roll - any other shape is a pale imitation) and allow to rest overnight.

  5. Brush with milk and bake about for 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven.

Electric oven: 180°C/350°F
Convection oven: 160°C/325°F
Gas: Level 2-3
Baking time: 20 minutes

These cookies may be very hard when they come out of the oven and you can mellow them by storing them in a tin with a wedge of apple for several weeks - or simply by dipping them in your tea.

Brezeln (Pretzels)

Sweet crunchy cookies.


  • 280g flour
  • 140g butter
  • 140g icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8g vanilla sugar (or vanilla flavouring)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk


  1. Quickly knead all ingredients into a smooth dough. Let it rest for one hour.

  2. Cut the dough into four parts and form seven pretzels out of each.

  3. Spread whisked egg yolk on the pretzels and bake them at 180°C/350°F until they are light brown.


Caramel, nuts, and chocolate - a perfect combination!


  • 200g heavy cream (about 1 cup)
  • 50g butter (¼ cup)
  • 150g sugar (¾ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 30g candied lemon
  • 30g candied orange
  • 100g chopped hazelnuts, almonds, or other nuts
  • 150g sliced almonds
  • 20 red candied cherries
  • 125g bittersweet coating chocolate

If you do not like candied lemons or oranges leave them out and increase the amount of nuts instead.


  1. Heat the cream, butter, sugar and honey slowly, stirring often. Reduce for about five minutes until thick. Take the pot off the burner, stir in the nuts, almonds, and candied fruit. Preheat the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment or grease it well, and drop the mixture on with a teaspoon. Using wet fingers, shape the Florentiner round and flat (you can use a moistened cutter to help with this). Decorate each with a quarter of a candied cherry.

  2. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, then slide off the baking sheet and allow to cool. Melt the chocolate and spread it on the underside of the cooled Florentiner. When cool, coat with a second layer of chocolate, and just before it hardens, use a fork to draw wavy patterns through it.

Electric oven: 200°C/400°F
Convection oven: 180°C/375°F
Gas: Level 3
Baking time: 13-15 minutes

Haselnussbusserl (Hazelnut Kisses)


  • 2 egg whites
  • 140g sugar
  • 150g grated hazelnuts
  • Small round wafers


  1. Whip the egg whites until they are very stiff, add sugar and go on whipping.

  2. Carefully stir in the hazelnuts.

  3. Put the mixture in little heaps on the wafers and let these bake at 160-170°C/320-338°F. Do not let them get too dark.

Instead of hazelnuts you can also use desiccated coconut and make Kokosbusserl.

Hausfreunde (Gallants)

Cookies with candied fruits.


  • 3 Eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 8g vanilla sugar (or vanilla flavouring)
  • 100g chopped hazelnuts
  • 100g raisins
  • 30g chopped candied lemon peel
  • 30g chopped candied cherries
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Stir eggs, sugar and vanilla sugar until creamy. Carefully stir in the other ingredients.

  2. Spread the mixture about 1cm high on a baking tray covered with baking parchment and bake at 180°C/350°F for 20 minutes. Let it cool off a bit and peel off the baking parchment, then cut it into small pieces of about 5 x 2.5cm.

Heidesand (Heath Sand)


A crumbly biscuit that takes its flavour from browned butter.

  • 200g butter (slightly under 1 cup, or use 1 cup and omit part of the milk - absolutely no substitutions!)
  • 150g sugar (¾ cup)
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • 250g flour (1¾ cups)


  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan or frying pan: heat it until it gets some colour but don't let it bubble.

  2. Pour into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool completely before proceeding.

  3. Using an electric mixer, whip the cooled butter until white and foamy, then stir in the sugar and one tablespoon of the milk.

  4. Knead in the flour, adding more milk if needed, to make a stiff, crumbly dough. Form rolls about 2.5cm thick, wrap in foil, and chill for an hour.

  5. Using a very sharp knife, cut off slices, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until done through, but still pale.

Baking time is about 12 minutes in a pre-heated oven.

Electric oven: 180°C/350°F
Convection oven: 160°C/325°F
Gas: Level 2-3
Baking time: 12-15 minutes


Small crunchy cookies with jam.


  • 300g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 200g butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • Pinch of salt
  • 80g ground hazelnuts
  • ½ cup icing sugar
  • 150g redcurrant jam


  1. Mix butter, sugar, yolk, vanilla and salt, then add flour and hazelnuts and knead into a dough. Wrap the dough in aluminium foil and let it rest for two hours in the fridge. Preheat the oven at 200°C/392°F.

  2. Form a long roll out of the dough, cut off slices, and form into balls. Dent the balls with the end of a wooden spoon.

  3. Put the cookies on a baking tray and let them bake for 15-20 minutes. Let the cookies cool off, then sprinkle them with icing sugar. Heat the jam and stir until smooth, then put it into the dents in the cookies.

Let the jam dry for one or two days before putting the cookies into a tin.

Linzer Augen (Linzer Eyes)

Double-decker cookies with jam filling.


  • 400g flour
  • 280g butter
  • 120g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 8g vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2cl cooking rum
  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar
  • 250g apricot jam


  1. Mix flour, sugar, salt, lemon peel, vanilla sugar, egg yolk and rum, then add the butter in small pieces and knead into a stiff dough. Wrap it in aluminium foil and let it rest for two hours in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

  2. Roll out the dough about 3mm thick and cut out round cookies, all of the same size. Cut a round hole into the middles of half of them (using, for example, a drinking glass for the cookies and a thimble for the holes in the middles).

  3. Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes, then let them cool off. Sprinkle the cookies with the holes with icing sugar and spread heated and stirred jam on the others. Put the cookies with holes on the ones with jam and put a bit of jam into the hole. Let the cookies dry thoroughly before putting them in a tin.


Pfeffernüsse are little white cookies flavoured with anise.


  • 1½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of grated lemon peel
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1-4 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1/3 cup of margarine (melted)
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of milk
  • ½ of finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon of ground anise seed
  • Confectioner's sugar as needed


  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, lemon peel, salt, spices and pepper and set aside.

  2. Beat together the margarine, sugar and egg.

  3. Add the flour mixture and milk until thoroughly mixed.

  4. Stir in the walnuts and anise, and drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet two inches (5cm) apart.

  5. Bake at 180°C/350°F for 15-17 minutes.

  6. Cool slightly and, while still warm, roll in confectioner's sugar.

Makes approximately five-dozen cookies.

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

Vanillekipferl became popular in the early 20th Century, after artificial vanilla flavouring was invented.



  • 200g flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 150g butter or margarine
  • 70g ground walnuts (or almonds)


  • 200g icing sugar
  • 24g vanilla sugar


  1. Knead the ingredients until they are a smooth dough, then let it rest for an hour.

  2. Form the dough into rolls about 1cm in diameter, then cut into pieces about 5cm long and roll into crescents.

  3. Bake the cookies at 180°C/350°F until the ends are brown. Mix icing sugar and vanilla sugar in a big bowl and roll the hot cookies in it. Wait for a few minutes after you take them out of the oven because they break easily when they are too hot.

Wespennester (Wasps' Nests)

Light meringues with roasted almonds and chunks of chocolate.


  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 150g fine sugar (¾ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
  • 125g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 250g slivered almonds
  • Small round wafers


  1. Lightly toast the almonds in a dry pan until they just begin to colour, and allow to cool.

  2. Whip the egg whites with the lemon juice, then add the sugars little by little until you have a smooth, shiny, and very stiff mass.

  3. Fold in the chocolate and almonds. Drop heaping teaspoons onto the wafers.

Baking time is about 50 minutes in a pre-heated oven.

Electric oven: 140°C/275°F
Convection oven: 120°C/250°F
Gas: Level 1
Baking time: 50 minutes

Leave the oven door open a crack while baking: if necessary, carefully prop it open with the handle of a cooking spoon.


Chewy, spicy, nutty cookies with a light, crispy meringue icing - this Researcher's personal favourite! The following recipe makes about two baking sheets' worth.


  • 3 egg whites
  • 250g icing sugar (a little less than 1½ cups)
  • Vanilla flavouring
  • Almond flavouring
  • At least 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (more to taste)
  • 400g ground hazelnuts (or walnuts or almonds - about 2½ cups)
  • More ground nuts or powdered sugar for rolling


  1. Whip the egg whites to a very stiff froth (so that a knife cut in the mixture remains visible) and slowly add the sugar, then keep stirring until thick and glossy.

  2. Take off and retain four heaped tablespoons (a good half cup) of the sugar/egg mixture for icing, then add the flavourings, cinnamon, and half the nuts or almonds and fold them in carefully.

  3. Knead in enough of the rest of the nuts/almonds so as to make a stiff dough that is only just very slightly sticky, and chill the dough for about an hour.

  4. Roll out to 1cm thickness and cut out stars. Use a knife or a brush to ice them with the remaining egg white mixture, then place on a parchment-covered or well-greased baking sheet.

Baking time is about 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven.

Electric oven: 140°C/280°F
Convection oven: 120°C/250°F
Gas: Level 1
Baking time: 25 minutes

The stars should still be slightly soft and moist underneath while they are still warm. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Zitronen/Mandelherzen (Lemon or Almond Hearts)

A crisp, dry cookie with a sweet sugar icing, totally flour-free - like crunchy marzipan. Again, the following makes about two baking sheets' worth.



  • 3 egg yolks
  • 120g sugar (slightly over ½ cup)
  • Vanilla flavouring
  • Lemon or almond flavouring
  • Pinch of baking powder
  • 200g ground almonds or nuts (about 1¼ cups)
  • More almonds or icing sugar for rolling


  • 100g powdered sugar (about ½ cup)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice or amaretto
  • Blanched, halved almonds for decoration (optional)


  1. Dough: Cream the egg yolks and sugar until frothy, then add the baking powder and flavouring. Then stir and knead in the almonds until you have a stiff dough. Roll out to 3-5mm thickness and cut out heart shapes with a cookie cutter and place on parchment-covered or oiled baking sheets - the cookies can be made into round shapes with a drinking glass at a pinch, but that's not doing it properly!

    Bake for about 10 minutes in a preheated oven.

    Electric oven: 180°C/350°F
    Convection oven: 160°C/325°F
    Gas: Level 2-3
    Baking time: 10 minutes

  2. Pull from the parchment, ice while still hot, and remove to wire racks to cool, placing half an almond in the centre of each while the icing is still wet.

  3. Icing: Stir two tablespoons of the liquid into the icing sugar and keep adding it drop by drop until you have a thick, but spreadable icing. Use a knife or brush to coat the hot hearts immediately after baking.

  4. It's traditional to make Zitronen/Mandelherzen and Zimtsterne at the same time, as one uses the egg yolks and the other the whites.

A Note on Ingredients

Butter - unsalted is preferable.

Wafers - these may not be available everywhere. As an alternative, use a well-greased, or better yet, parchment-lined baking sheet, as for meringues. Stealing communion host wafers for the purpose is not condoned!

Baking rum - if not available you can do without it.

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