Spoonfuls of Germany



vanilla-crescents-1The terrorist attack on the Christmas market in Berlin yesterday taints with blood the image of Germany’s idyllic Christmas markets, which are famous around the world for their magic atmosphere. Christmas markets are an inseparable part of Germany’s Christmas traditions. You simply cannot visit Germany around Christmastime and not visit a Christmas market.

The oldest Christmas markets, like the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden, originated in the Middle Ages, and were held so that people could get their supplies for the winter. Today the 2,500 Christmas markets in Germany are a destination for a family outing, where you take your kids on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon during Advent, or where colleagues go after work. The common risks associated with a visit to a Christmas market are getting tipsy from too much mulled wine (Glühwein), or burning your fingers on hot chestnuts straight from the coals.

My fondest Christmas market memory is when I was nine or ten years old and my father took me to the Christmas market on Frankfurt’s historic Römerberg. He bought me white cotton candy on a wooden stick for the chimney of my gingerbread house, which was my entire pride that Christmas. I was extra careful bringing the cotton candy home, the next morning however, to my great disappointment, it had shriveled into a sad lump of sugar oozing down the chimney. I guess my father wasn’t too familiar with the chemistry of cotton candy.

It is around Christmastime when I miss Germany the most, and when a tad of homesickness befalls me every year. I don’t decorate our house much but I bake Fingerkolatschen, my grandmother’s signature thumbprint cookies, gingerbread, Stollen and a bunch of other goodies. While those delicacies do not make up for Christmas season in Germany, they bring a waft of German Christmas into my kitchen.vanilla-crescents-2Last weekend I came up with a new recipe for Vanillekipferl, the classic vanilla crescents that are a must in every German Christmas cookie assortment, yet mine had a special twist: I used black walnuts and butternuts, nut varieties that are native to North America and that you cannot find in Germany. I was really pleased with my new recipe and wanted to share it. Then the news about the Berlin attack came, and at first it seemed wrong to even think about cookies.

When I saw the Twitter hashtag #BeStrongBerlin today, I tried to evoke my own Christmas market memories. That’s when I wrote the recipe down.

I write this with a heavy heart that goes out to the people of Berlin. Mixed in with the sorrow I feel for the victims is the fear for the many who have found refuge in Germany from terror in their home countries, and who are now afraid that they will be targeted for that heinous act.

Don’t let that happen. Be strong Berlin.vanilla-crescents-3

Vanilla Crescents with Black Walnuts and Butternuts (Vanillekipferl)

½ cup (65 g) finely ground black walnuts

½ cup (65 g) finely ground butternuts or regular walnuts

1¾ cups (250 g) all-purpose flour

2/3 cup (75 g) organic cornstarch

½ cup + 3 tablespoons (70 g) sugar

Pinch of salt

1 stick + 2 tablespoons (140 g) cold unsalted butter

2 egg yolks

½ cup (100 g) real vanilla sugar (find the recipe here)

1. Put the nuts, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to a sandy consistency. Add the butter and the egg yolks and process until evenly mixed and the dough holds together in a ball. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until firm, 3 to 4 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. Break walnut-size pieces of dough and roll them between your palms into small ropes about 2 inches (5 cm) long. Gently bend the ropes into a crescent half circle and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until just pale. Do not let them brown.

5. Place the vanilla sugar in a small shallow bowl. Gently pick up the hot crescents and dip them in the vanilla sugar from both sides. Place on a cake rack to cool completely. The crescents harden as they cool.

6. Store in a cookie tin with layers of wax paper or parchment paper between the layers.

Makes 60 cookies



4 thoughts on “#BeStrongBerlin

  1. Thank you for this post! As I live in Berlin for about 15 years, I was shocked by this attack which hit my home town, but what I saw these following days is the fact, that the Berlin people refused to get so scared and remain in a state of shock. No, I refuse to fall into it, we are going out and keep on going to prepare Christmas as a reunion of family and friends. The German press is cautious as is the police not giving room for too much guesswork. Apart from one prominent politician, I have not much heard about targeting the refugees, yet… We should keep calm and carry on, not giving room to those who wanted to attack us all with this act of cowardice!

    Yes, I do love Vamillekipferl, too, but this year, I tried Walnut Balsamico Crescents, not that sweet with a little tartish glimpse…
    Merry Christimas to you and your family!

  2. Hi Nadia, I too feel somewhat homesick for Germany at Christmas – somehow it’s not the same in other countries. I visited the Christmas markets in Srrasbourg the day after the attack in Berlin, and it definitely felt somewhat muted. All the same, I would not have dreamt of not going out or staying away from the markets! Just saw a headline in my parents’ local paper: “Sei stark und lass keinen Hass in dein Herz” – would be great if people would take that to heart!

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