Having our neighbor on this list was a must, and while making these cookies, I got serious “şekerpare” (a popular Turkish dessert) vibes. This goes to show that our cultures are closer than we think. While the Turkish version has a lemony taste, this version surprised me with how well orange paired together with the rich and spicy syrup. Orange flavor tends to be overbearing but here it was subtle and worked well with the other spices. This is perfect for people who are into more delicate, gooey and soft desserts.
For the cookies:
500 grams flour
120 milliliters olive oil
120 milliliters vegetable oil
80 grams sugar
Zest of half an orange
100 milliliters orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ tablespoon cinnamon;
crushed walnuts on top (optional)
For the syrup:
170 grams honey
100 grams sugar
200 milliliters water
dash of cinnamon or 2 sticks
pinch of lemon zest/rind
squeeze of lemon juice
Mix the oils, orange juice, zest and sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl, add the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and mix that as well. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients until a rather wet but firm dough forms. A spatula should do the trick. If the dough feels way too soft don’t hesitate to add a handful more of flour.
Pluck away equal pieces of dough (a bit bigger than a walnut), roll them into balls and press them onto a baking pan. Press them down slightly with your hands and make crosshatches with a fork. Bake at 170 C for 25-30 minutes until the cookies are light brown.
While the cookies are in the oven, prepare the syrup. In a pot, add all of the ingredients (except for the lemon juice) and continuously stir until it starts to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook without a lid for 10 minutes. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice onto the syrup as a final step and stir.
Once the cookies are out of the oven let them soak in the syrup one by one, 30 seconds each for each side. Make sure you take out the cloves, cinnamon sticks and lemon rind before soaking the cookies.
Optional: After drowning them in syrup, you can press some crushed walnuts onto the cookies.
I can’t deny my German roots, so here is one of my favorite Christmas cookies: Zimtsterne. They are literally called “cinnamon stars” and are a great option for those who have gluten intolerance. Stacking them up and binding them together with some twine or ribbon is the traditional way of gifting them to the ones you love (or to yourself).
500 grams ground hazelnuts and/or almonds
300 grams powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
A tad of almond extract
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons water (optional)
1 egg white
125 grams powdered sugar
For the dough, put all of the ingredients into a bowl, except the water, and knead until you get a hard, sticky dough. If it is too crumbly to roll out, add a tablespoon of water, and if needed, add the second. Spread some flour on the surface where you want to roll out the dough. Use baking paper to roll out the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin and to get a nice even surface. Alternatively, you can roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper to avoid the flour.
Cut some cookies out with a star cookie cutter. (You can, of course, cut them in any shape you want. I went with the traditional way.)
For the meringue, beat the egg white for a bit so it starts to get fluffy, then gradually add the powdered sugar and continue mixing for five minutes until it thickens. Spread the meringue on the cookies with the back of a teaspoon, a brush or your fingers.
Bake the cookies at 150 C for about 10-15 minutes until the meringue hardens but doesn’t change color.
PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOMS (U.S.)
When I think of Christmas, I can’t imagine a nation crazier about the holiday than the U.S. Just like Germany, they have so many different cookies to celebrate the holiday season, which made it hard for me to choose. So, I chose something with peanut butter to change it up a bit.
230 grams sugar + 100 grams for rolling
120 grams butter
120 grams peanut butter (smooth)
1 package of vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
250 grams flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
Hershey’s chocolate kisses or chocolate chips
Add butter, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla sugar and mix well until combined. Add the egg and mix again. Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually add to the mixture until a smooth dough forms.
Let the dough rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to reduce the spread. Place chocolate pieces of your choice into the fridge as well.
Roll the dough into equal walnut-sized balls, roll the balls in the sugar and put them onto a baking pan while leaving enough space for them to spread out. I left about 5 centimeters of space between each cookie.
Bake at 170 C for about 10 minutes until the cookies start cracking and turn a golden brown around the edges.
Take out your chocolate pieces from the fridge and push them into the middles of the still-hot cookies. They will harden again once the cookies cool.
Not far from Greece, I discovered Sape cookies, which intrigued me with their simplicity and tangy lemon zest. They can be made into many different shapes but I liked how they looked like upside-down muffins covered in sugar. I am not a big fan of semolina but it gives the cookie a great texture. And an important note: Let the cookies sit for a few days before eating. The more they rest, the better they taste!
140 grams butter
120 grams sugar + 100 grams sugar for the topping
1 packet of vanilla sugar and a bit vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
300 grams flour
80 grams semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon honey
Add the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar, and mix well until combined. Add the egg and mix again. Put all of the remaining ingredients into the mixture and knead.
Grease tartelette tins with margarine or butter and press the dough into them, but leave the middle part a bit lower as the dough will rise again. Bake at about 170 C for 10-15 minutes until the corners of the cookies start to turn a soft brown color.
Let the cookies cool off for a few minutes before removing them from their tins. If they do not want to pop out, carefully insert a thin knife around the sides. Cover the cookies with sugar while they are still warm and let them cool.