From Natural Food News Nov-Dec 2009, by Luise Bolleber
One of the privileges of growing up as a first-generation American with German parents is that I was exposed to wonderful dishes not typically found in this country. My mother whisked my siblings and me off to Germany many times when I was young, and I have fond memories of my aunts’ talent in the kitchen.
My father’s sister, Katharina, who everyone agreed was the best cook in the family, made the most incredible apple strudel. She never measured anything and I watched in wonder as she took a lump of dough, stretched it to transparency over the dining room table, sprinkled chopped apples and sugar and drizzled butter over the paper-thin dough, rolled it up with the aid of a table cloth, and baked it in an iron pan that had survived World War II. When this pastry emerged from the oven hot and crusty, we could scarcely stop ourselves from letting it cool before attacking it with a knife. Everyone came knocking when they found out she was making her signature pastry and it rarely lasted two days.
Although my mother adopted American cooking habits after marrying my father and moving to the U.S. in the 1950s, she did continue to make traditional German Christmas cookies, many of which featured nuts.
I find that German cookies are superior to bland, American-style holiday sugar cookies that everyone makes here. The German cookies have strong flavors from ingredients like anise, almonds, lemon, black pepper, and jam, and are much more piquant and delicious.
I remember enjoying cookies with hazelnuts and almonds in them, and to this day mourn the absence of flavorful, nutty German cookies whenever I go to a Christmas party or other gathering where everyone brings cookies. My favorites were Pfeffernusse, a small, hard cookie made with black pepper, Springerle, a pressed cookie full of anise seeds, and Lebkuchen, a gingerbread-like confection.
Actually, I think I loved all the German cookies, but especially the nutty ones. Not only do nuts add flavor and texture to cookies, baked goods and other foods, they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, folic acid, arginine, and flavonoids and isoflavones. They promote healthy arteries and cholesterol levels, and you can even say that nuts are a good food if you are trying to lose weight; in spite of their high fat content, their satiety-inducing effect results in less eating. And if you still need convincing, nuts made it onto the Mayo Clinic’s list of “10 Great Health Foods for Eating Well.”
Here are some cookie recipes that feature nuts.
Mandel-Halbmonde (Almond Crescents)
Makes 3 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour, unbleached
1 cup almonds, ground
Preheat oven to 350. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each cookie, shape into logs and bend into crescent shapes. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container.
Makes 2 dozen
2/3 cup lightly toasted hazelnuts or almonds
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12-oz jar seedless raspberry jam
Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan until fragrant and skins begin to loosen, about 6 minutes. Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins, then cool to room temperature. Pulse nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely ground.
Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy. Add nut mixture and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
With floured hands, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours. Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out 1 disk of dough into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick) between 2 sheets of wax paper (keep remaining dough chilled). If dough becomes too soft to roll out, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm.
Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with a larger, round cookie cutter and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging about 1 inch apart. Using a smaller cutter, cut out centers from half of the cookies, reserving centers and rerolling along with scraps (reroll only once). Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies from second disk.
Spread about 1 teaspoon jam on flat side of each solid cookie and sandwich jam with flat side of 1 windowed cookie. Sandwich remaining cookies in same manner.
Makes about 24 cookies
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup ground hazelnuts
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff
Preheat oven to 350. Gently mix sugar into beaten egg whites and then fold in nuts. Use a teaspoon to drop small scoops of dough onto a greased cookie sheet. If desired, place a whole hazelnut in center of cookie. Place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until golden brown for 15 to 20 minutes.