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Zimtsterne: German Cinnamon Star Cookies

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Zimtsterne are traditional German Christmas cookies with royal icing. These cookies are moist and chewy cinnamon stars glazed with a thin, crisp layer of royal icing.

To make zimtsterne the dough is rolled out and coated with a thin layer of royal icing before cutting out small star-shaped cookies. The dough scraps can be gathered back up, remixed, and rolled out again until the dough is used up.

A couple interesting things to note about these cookies is that they are iced before cutting out the cookies and baking. Also, the cut-out stars are frozen before baking, ensuring the zimtsterne have the perfect texture after baking.

They are a bit more involved than the typical Christmas cookie, but these cinnamon stars are worth the extra effort.

Because of their small size and how long they keep, Zimtsterne are perfect Christmas cookies for sharing with friends and family.

close up of zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies
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The History of Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies have been a tradition in Europe since the middle ages, when exotic spices and ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, and almonds were introduced to Europe. Because of the expense of these ingredients, they were saved for special occasions and important holidays. Cookies were made instead of cakes or other treats because they can be easily shared with others and keep longer. They quickly became an advent custom in medieval monasteries.

zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies with a cup of coffee
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Zimtsterne Baking Tips

  • The dough for these cookies is really sticky. Instead of rolling the dough out directly on the counter, it’s best to sandwich the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or silicone baking mats. The dough doesn’t have any flour in it, so rolling it in flour on your work surface would compromise the dough. Alternatively, you could try to roll them with powdered sugar, but parchment paper is your best bet.
  • They make special zimtsterne cookie cutters that fold to release the dough after you’ve stamped it. I wasn’t sure how helpful it was going to be, but I was pleasantly surprised. The dough sticks to the cutter just enough to lift it off of the parchment, then the cutter unfolds so you can release the cookie on the baking sheet. You can try using a normal cookie cutter, but the dough might stick more and be difficult to release.
  • Dip the cookie cutter in a small bowl of water before stamping out each cookie. This will help prevent the dough from sticking as much. I’ve also seen suggestions to dip the cookie cutter in Kirschwasser. I’m always a fan of using rum, so you could try that too.
  • If the cookies do stick to the parchment on your work surface, rather than lifting up with the cookie cutter, you can carefully lift the cookies off the parchment with an offset spatula. If things get a bit misshapen, you can use a paring knife to trim them up.
  • The royal icing is very thick, more like a paste than a glaze. Do your best to spread an even, thin layer (about 1/16 inch thick or 1-1/2 mm) using an offset spatula. Clean off the spatula every few strokes so you can get a nice, smooth finish. 
  • Because the ingredients in the icing and in the cookies are so similar, you can actually gather up the scraps after and remake the dough. Simply add the scraps back into your mixing bowl and weigh them. Add 10% of the weight of the scraps in almond flour and mix until it’s fully combined. There should be enough icing to do this about 2 to 3 times.
  • The cookies should be baked long enough to set the royal icing, but you don’t want the icing to brown. When they’re done, the icing will have set and the cooled cookies won’t stick to the parchment paper.
baking tray of zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies with garland and a mug of coffee
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Craving More European Christmas Cookies?

Ingredients:

Yields about 45 cookies.

Cinnamon Star Cookies

MetricCups
165g almond flour
150g sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1 egg white
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 2/3 cups almond flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1 egg white
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Royal Icing

MetricCups
340g confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 egg white
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 egg white
the ingredients to make zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies
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1. Sift together the dry ingredients:

In a mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, sugar, and cinnamon.

2. Mix the dough:

Add in the egg white and the lemon juice and stir until the dough comes together.

3. Roll out the dough:

Sandwich the cookie dough between two pieces of parchment paper, or silicone baking mats. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch (13mm) thick. Keep the dough covered with the parchment while you make the royal icing.

rolling out the zimtsterne cinnamon star cookie dough
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4. Make the royal icing:

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl.

Stir in the egg white and lemon juice and keep stirring until evenly mixed, about 3 minutes. The icing should be the texture of a thick paste.

5. Frost the cookie dough:

Remove the top layer of parchment paper from the cookie dough. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of the icing over the cookie dough. The frosting is quite thick, but try to get a thin, even layer (about 1/16 inch or 1.5 mm thick).

spreading the royal icing on the zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies
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6. Cut out the cookies:

Line a baking tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Fill a small bowl with some water. Dip a 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) star-shaped cookie cutter into the water and shake off the excess. The water helps prevent the dough from sticking to the cookie cutter. Then, carefully cut out a cookie and place it on the lined sheet pan. You may need to gently tap the cookie cutter to release the cookie.

Continue to cut out the cookies, dipping the cookie cutter in water each time, and trying to stamp the cookies as close together as possible.

cutting out zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies
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cutting out zimtsterne cinnamon star cookies
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7. Remix the scraps:

Gather up the scraps, weigh them, and place them in a mixing bowl. Add 10% of its weight in almond flour to the mixing bowl and stir until the dough comes together and is fully combined.

Roll out the dough, frost as above, and cut out more cookies.

You should be able to remix the scraps about 2 to 3 times before running out of icing.

8. Freeze the dough:

After cutting out all of the cookies, put the baking tray in the freezer and chill the cookies for at least 2 hours before baking.

9. Bake the cookies:

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, until the royal icing has set but only just begun to color on the edges.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet before removing them.

Zimtsterne can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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