My college boyfriend was from a quaint village in the south of Germany. Seriously, when I visited, it was like I stepped into the land of Snow White. It was beautiful. Anyways, one of the great things about dating this foreigner was being introduced to new, German things. For Christmas one year when we were in school, his mother sent his favorite cookie recipes and we spent the day baking traditional German Christmas cookies. The Basler Leckerli were by far my favorite of them all: thick and spiced, sweetened by honey, they are best eaten with a mug of hot tea—the perfect afternoon snack. I continue to make them for Christmas, long after the boyfriend himself has gone. I still have the original German copies, stained and with translations: good memories, great cookies! —TheFritschKitchen
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: TheFritschKitchen bakes cookies (and more!) in Chicago, where she's an engineer.
WHAT: Subtly sweet spice cookies spiked with German kirschwasser.
HOW: Put your muscle into making these German holiday cookies: Roll out a thick spiced dough, score it, and bake—and then shower it all with a sugary glaze and down with a cup of tea.
WHY WE LOVE IT: TheFritschKitchen wasn't lying: These cookies take a little well-worth-it effort to roll out, but once you've done so, you're rewarded with a treat a bit like a fruitcake in cookie form, with the spices marrying with the citrus zest and almonds. Be sure to keep the glaze warm until you pour it over the cookies; you don't want it to crystallize! —The Editors
In small pot, warm honey and sugar, stirring occasionally until sugar is melted. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, beat in eggs, spices, almonds, citrus, and kirschwasser.
Whisk together flour and baking powder. Add to dough mixture, beating until just combined. Set dough aside for at least one hour (or, as the German mother warned, "sonst droht der Wahnsinn!"—madness will ensue!).
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a jelly roll pan, either buttering it or lining it with parchment paper. Blanch almonds to remove their skins, and split if possible.
Roll out the dough. Fair warning, this is going to be tough and frustrating, and mostly likely a little messy. It helps to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Aim for a rectangle with a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Patience and some old-fashioned muscle will be your saving grace. Transfer into the prepared pan. Score the dough to give yourself "guidelines" for cutting the cookies after they're baked, and decorate with halved, blanched almonds.
Bake at 350° F for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the dough's thickness: The thicker it is (in case you gave up on the rolling), the longer it'll take). Bake until firm and golden brown.
As soon as the pan goes into the oven, prepare your glaze! (Even better, start it a few minutes before the pan goes into the oven). Timing is everything here. Bring water and sugar to a boil, then drop to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. It will form a viscous glaze.
When the cookies come out of the oven, immediately "shower" the cookies evenly with the glaze. Allow to cool.
Remove from the pan and cut. Enjoy while wrapped in a blanket with a mug of tea, for once not cursing the snow outside.