Spoonfuls of Germany

Nutcrackers (Nussknacker)



Usually I’m not in the habit of snacking at my desk. But, in the weeks before Christmas, when treats lurk everywhere, by late afternoon a Plätzchenteller, a plate with a variety of German Christmas cookies, dances magically in my view.

Although German Christmas baking uses natural ingredients – lots of nuts, dried fruits, and cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, all spices with health benefits – goodies like Stollen and gingerbread contain mostly white wheat flour and are loaded with sugar and butter – not the type of nibble that a dietitian would classify as healthy snacks.

I was sure that I could find something that would fall into the healthy category. But browsing German Christmas recipes I did not find anything that could pass the healthy standard and still satisfy my craving for the taste of Germany during the holiday season. Then I remembered Nussknacker, a pastry that I can never resist buying when I am in Germany: a short-crust base topped with tightly packed whole hazelnuts held together by a toffee-like glue and coated with dark chocolate on the underside.

Aha! What if I just cut out the pastry part, minimized the sugar and used raw sugar instead of white, and made them the size of small cookies instead of palm-size? I did and it worked. Yum, and healthy!

Here is my vegan, gluten-free skimmed-down no-bake version of Nussknacker. This is a very flexible recipe, you can swap the hazelnuts for other nuts, and use chocolate with a flavor – I used dark chocolate with orange bits – as long as it is a high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.

Nut assortment

No-Bake Nutcracker Cookies (Nussknacker)

4 tablespoons raw sugar

4 tablespoons water

1 cup (120 g) roasted unsalted hazelnuts (if using raw hazelnuts, toast them in an ungreased pan or in the oven first)

2 (1-ounce) squares (60 g) dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher

1. Bring the sugar and the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Simmer uncovered over low heat until it turns into a thick syrup. Make sure not to burn the sugar.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts. Mix well to coat them evenly.

3. Line a dinner plate with wax paper or parchment paper. While the nut mix is still hot, place rounds of about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter on the prepared plate. Either spoon the mix into a lightly greased circular cookie cutter, or free-form them. To prevent burning your hands, use a dinner knife to push the nuts into shape. The nuts should be tightly packed but in one layer only.

4. Put the plate in the freezer until the sugar had hardened and the nuts hold together. Carefully turn the rounds over.

5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave and coat the undersides of the rounds with chocolate. Let the chocolate harden. To speed this up you can place the rounds in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. Store in an airtight container with wax paper or parchment paper between the layers. They keep for several weeks.

Makes 5 pieces