‘We will find strength to continue living life as we want to. Free, together and open’
– Angela Merkel
It would appear that Christmas has been very well covered here on The German Way. Check out the A-Z Guide to Christmas Traditions and the interactive calendar of Christmas facts if you don’t believe me. So between you and me, I was a little stumped when trying to pick a festive angle for this post, as a Brit I tend to stick to British traditions at Christmas, a taste of the homeland, mince pies and hot toddies are the order of the season in this house. As I rolled out the dough for my last batch of festive spiced biscuits, I suddenly realised that I what I was doing was something I had never done before moving to Germany. Making Plätzchen (Christmas cookies) is one German advent tradition that I’ve been happy to adopt.
Plätzchen are a range of small biscuits (or cookies depending on where your English comes from) that appear after the lighting of the first advent candle. There is no single flavour or shape but a range of spiced, buttery bite sized treats, perfect with a hot drink on a cold winter evening.
These are just a few of the many that are just waiting to be baked and eaten :-
Vanillekipferl – A buttery, crumbly, vanilla biscuit, almost shortbread tasting and hand formed into a crescent shape.
Spritzgebäck – A piped, buttery vanilla biscuit. Shaped into a ring (not unlike a Viennese whirl without the filling), S shaped or simply straight. Sometimes half dipped in chocolate.
Zimtstern – A chewy cinnamon star topped with white icing.
Spekulatius – A crunchy spiced biscuit with an embossed design. A special mix of spices including cardamom, cinnamon and clove give this biscuit its festive flavour. Also made in other flavours including almond, chocolate and butter.
Springerle – A crisp aniseed flavoured biscuit. The most important thing about this biscuit is the design, which is made by pressing a mould onto the dough and allowing the biscuit to dry before baking to preserve the design.
Plätzchen baking is a big tradition in Germany, Austria and German speaking Switzerland, it can also be quite competitive and whilst bakery bought treats may taste the part, you will receive extra brownie points for making your own. The ritual of preparing the Plätzchen is an important element of Christmas and you may find yourself invited to a baking session, or even just reap the benefits of your neighbours having one (oh hello delicious free Plätzchen). Baking with friends and family is an excellent opportunity for sharing recipes, keep your ears open for any secret family recipes though most are fiercely guarded.
Platz comes from the Latin placental, meaning bread, and is still used to identify any bread made with yeast, whilst the suffix chen is added to indicate the diminutive form. Plätzchen – little bread. Traditionally sweet delicacies were forbidden by the church and only appeared on special days, however since the winters were cold and working people required more energy just to keep warm, the eating of Platzchen was not regarded as sinful during the winter, and from there a tradition was born.
I haven’t even mentioned all the fantastic sweet threats that appear at Christmas time. Lebkuchen, soft spicy gingerbread topped with almonds, fruit or simply glazed, the best ones come from Nürnberg and you will pay what seems like a small fortune for the real ones in the bakery but I promise it is worth every penny. Dominosteine, chocolate covered layered soft gingerbread with jam and marzipan and Pfeffernüsse, sweet glazed bites of gingerbread heaven.
Now I’m glad I have a plate of freshly baked Plätzchen to dig into right away because I’m suddenly feeling rather hungry.
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