The 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.Last 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.
Vanilla Crescents with Black Walnuts and Butternuts (Vanillekipferl)
½ cup (65 g) finely ground black walnuts
½ cup (65 g) finely ground butternuts
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 sugar in a small shallow bowl. Gently pick up the hot crescents and dip them in the 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