Zimtsterne, ‘cinnamon stars’, are traditional German Christmas biscuits made from ground almonds (almond meal) with egg whites and cinnamon. They are light cookies with a slightly chewy centre and crunchy edges, topped with a meringue icing.
What are zimtsterne
I was introduced to these German cinnamon star cookies by Mr Jones’s work colleagues during our first Christmas in Munich, and have been making this recipe every year since.
Their unique ‘zimtserne texture’ is similar to a macaron, with a crispy outside and chewy light centre, this is topped with a crispy meringue icing – or frosting. The icing is actually a thin layer of meringue, and is baked with the biscuit. They are popular throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Why we love this recipe
- The sweet cinnamon aroma of them baking in the oven they make the kitchen smell amazing and smell of the holidays!
- These naturally gluten free biscuits are a wonderful sweet treat on the side of a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or mulled wine.
- The cookies are also dairy free cookies – there is no butter or milk in these stars.
- Traditional cinnamon Christmas biscuits make a wonderful edible Christmas gift. I make them every Christmas for friends and family, as part of a cookie hamper with riccarelli, Brunkager (Danish brown cookies) and chocolate bark, or with a bottle of wine.
- Ground almonds – the name given to them in the UK, aka almond meal in Australia and almond flour in America (use finely ground, blanched almond flour).
- Egg whites – give these holiday cookies a meringue like light and airy texture. Leftover Egg Yolks – use them in Duchess potatoes, or to glaze sausage rolls.
- Cinnamon – the star ingredients in these cookies. I do not recommend leaving it out or substituting with another spice, as it would make these cookies in to another cookie entirely.
- Icing sugar – confectioners sugar. Use normal rather than soft.
How to make these German Christmas cookies
- Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until they form stiff peaks.
- Sift in the sugar a little at a time and whisk in between.
- Remove some of the egg white mixture and place in to a little bowl (this will be your meringue icing).
- Stir the ground cinnamon into your almond meal and fold this in to the larger amount of whisked egg whites.
- Roll out your dough and cut out star shapes. (You can get a special zimtsterne cookie cutter, but I find with this dough you don’t need it, it works fine with a normal star shaped cookie cutter.)
- Carefully place your cinnamon stars on to a lined baking sheet and top each with a little of the egg white mixture. Using the back of a teaspoon or a pastry brush, gently push the egg whites out to completely cover the stars in an even layer.
- Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Dust with icing sugar and enjoy!
Whilst it is not know exactly where or when these German star cookies were first made, there is written evidence from the mid 16th Century. At that time, the two main ingredients in these little star cookies, almonds and cinnamon, were rare and expensive and therefore only available to royalty. When these two ingredients became more readily available to everyone around 200 years later, they were reserved for special occasions such as Christmas, and traditionally made during advent.
Dutch cinnamon, aka cassia cinnamon, bakers cinnamon or Saigon cinnamon is earthier and stronger than Ceylon cinnamon (aka A-grade cinnamon) which is grown in Sri Lanka and tastes lighter and brighter and more delicate.
Yes you can freeze these cookies. They will freeze for up to 6 weeks.
My Recipe Tips
- Don’t Over-bake! The biscuits will feel soft to the touch when removed from the oven, but will harden as they cool. If you over cook the zimtsterne they can become dry.
- You can use a traditional Zimtsterne cookie cutter, which some people prefer as it can leave the points of the star in tact, whereas the points can get stuck in some cookie cutters, however I use a – I use a 7cm/3″ star cutter and don’t have any issues.
- Use a spoon or a toothpick to get the icing to the points of the star.
- Ground Hazelnuts: You can use a mixture of ground almonds and ground hazelnuts if you like. Whilst I love ground hazelnut biscuits, I prefer zimtsterne made with just ground almonds – plus they are cheaper too!
- Room temperature: The cinnamon stars keep for up to 2 weeks when stored in an airtight container.
- Freezer: Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Wrap the biscuits individually and then place in a container and freeze for up to 6 weeks. To defrost, remove as many as you need and they will defrost in under an hour at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
More baking recipes for you
Authentic Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Stars)
- 3 egg whites from medium size eggs
- Pinch salt
- 250g (8.8oz) icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
- 1.5- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 350g (12.3oz) ground almonds (almond meal, almond flour)
- Oven 140˚C fan 160˚C / 280˚F convection / 320˚F.
- Line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper.
- Beat the egg whites and salt with an electric whisk until stiff. Sift in the icing sugar a little at a time, whisking inbetween.
- Remove 3 heaped tablespoons of the egg white mixture and put in bowl, placing to one side for the top of the stars.
- Mix the cinnamon with the ground almonds then fold this into the egg whites.
- Sprinkle the work surface with icing sugar – or roll between two sheets greaseproof paper – and roll out the dough to 1 cm (0.4 inches) thick. Cut out stars with 7cm (3 inch) cutter.
- Place stars on baking trays and spread each star with ¼ – ½ teaspoon of the egg white mix – either use a pastry brush or the back of a teaspoon.
- Bake for 15 minutes. They will feel soft to the touch.
- Remove on the baking paper to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Will last 2 weeks in airtight container.
- They freeze very well.