Christmas baking in Germany is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There is nothing quite like the level of care and dedication Germans put into their utterly delightful Christmas cookies or Plätzchen.
There are hundreds of different types (more recipes below!) but my absolute favourite is German Cinnamon Stars or Zimtsterne cookies.
All Christmas cookies in this part of the world are a little fiddly to make, delicate morsels that dissolve in a moment on the tongue, but Zimtsterne have a reputation as being one of the trickier ones.
The good news is that as I love them so much, I have spent years perfecting a never-fail recipe to make them as easy (and delicious!) as possible with step-by-step instructions for the perfect bake.
What are Zimtsterne?
Zimtsterne or Cinnamon stars are cookies made from an almond or hazelnut meringue, topped with crisp royal icing or frosting. They have a chewy texture from the nut meringue which is mixed with marzipan in my recipe for extra flavour and chew.
These classic cookies are a real symbol of the holiday season in Germany and make an ever-popular Christmas gift.
To make Zimtsterne, you’ll need the following main ingredients:
- Ground nuts: Traditionally these cookies are made with ground hazelnuts, though you can use ground almonds too. If using ground almonds you need to leave the skin on so that they have a good chewy texture. Blanched almond meal will make very pale and sad-looking cookies (though it’s perfect for making Vanilla Moons!)
- Marzipan: This is my secret ingredient and a real baker’s trick. Not only does marzipan give these cookies a superb chew and flavour, but it also stabilises the dough making it much easier to handle.
- Powdered sugar: Because these cookies have a short cooking time, powdered sugar dissolves better into the cookie dough.
- Cinnamon: The main flavour! I use a lot of cinnamon to really bring the wonderful flavour to the fore.
The complete ingredient list and detailed instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
How to make Zimtsterne
Depending on how perfect you want your cookies to look and how much space you have in your freezer, I’ve given two different methods for cutting and decorating.
- A small star-shaped cookie cutter
- Baking Sheets
- Electric mixer
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The Zimtsterne dough is really sticky! What can I do?
Remember, if the dough is too sticky to work with, add more ground nuts and keep it chilled! When the cookie dough is at room temperature it will be too sticky to handle.
How do I store Zimtsterne?
Always store German Christmas cookies in a cookie tin. if you find they get hard after some weeks, place a piece of sliced apple in the tin and they will soften again.
Can I use other nuts to make Zimtsterne?
Yes! Almonds or walnuts will work as well.
Even More German Christmas Cookie recipes!
Or try a seriously tasty Chocolate Hazelnut Babka instead!
Cinnamon Stars Recipe
Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Star Cookies)
- 400 g ground hazelnuts (see note 1)
- 200 g marzipan
- 2 egg whites
- 75 g powdered or confectioner's sugar
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp lemon juice
for the frosting:
- 1 large egg white
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- 175 g 1 + ½ cups powdered or confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- MAKE DOUGH: Place 300g (¾) of the hazelnuts in a mixing bowl with all the other dough ingredients and use your hands or a wooden spoon to knead to a smooth dough. When the dough is smooth and pliable after 3-4 minutes, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in cling film and place it in the fridge for 1 hour.
- ROLL DOUGH: After an hour, remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out to 1 cm (just more than 1/3 in.) thickness on either a work surface sprinkled with ground nuts or in a large freezer bag with the long sides cut open. Return to the fridge (or freezer if your freezer is big enough!) while you prepare the frosting.
- PREPARE AND MAKE FROSTING: Heat the oven to 120°C / 250°F / Gas ½ and line two oven trays with baking parchment paper. In a clean bowl using an electric beater, beat the egg white and lemon juice until it is light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until it is completely incorporated. Continue beating for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.
- CUT COOKIES: Remove the cookie dough from the fridge or freezer and cut as many star shapes as possible with an approx 4cm (1.5 in.) star-shaped cutter. Place them on the prepared baking sheets as you go. Re-roll the cookie dough to cut out as many as possible, adding some of the reserved ground nuts as necessary.
- FROST COOKIES: Use a spoon or pastry brush to spread a thick layer of the frosting on the top of the cookies, then bake, one tray at a time on the bottom shelf of the oven for 20 minutes.
- COOL: Allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Store in a metal cookie tin (not an airtight container!) for up to 4 weeks.
Alternative Frosting Method:
- If you fancy a really professional finish on your Zimtsterne and have a large freezer space, remove the dough from the fridge, spread it thickly with the frosting, smooth the surface then place it in the freezer for two hours. Remove from the freezer and use a star-shaped cutter to cut out as many stars as possible, placing them on the baking trays as you go. I find it easier to push the stars through the cutter from the bottom, however, the dough and frosting should be firm enough to handle easily from their time in the freezer.
- Any remaining offcuts can either be cut into small pieces and baked as is, but I like to re-roll it with the reserved ground nuts and repeat the process. Bake the cookies, one cookie sheet at a time, on the bottom shelf of the oven for 25 minutes, allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely before storing.
- If you can’t get ground hazelnuts use ground whole almonds (almond meal) or almond flour instead. Make sure to use whole ground almonds as they will give the biscuits the correct texture. It’s easy enough to make this yourself in the food processor if you can’t find any at the grocery store.
- You may have some ground nuts left over, store them in an airtight container in the freezer until you need them again
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