10 treats to make Christmas even sweeter

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Fresh from the oven

For many families, baking together in the run-up to Christmas is a popular tradition. Cut-out cookies are quick and easy to prepare. Cookie cutters shape the rolled-out pastry into hearts, moon and stars or Christmas trees. Brushing them with egg yolk makes them all shiny. And once they have cooled off they can be brightly decorated.

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The festive vanilla aroma

These are the most popular treats in Germany: the vanilla Kipferl. The name Kipferl given to this crescent shaped biscuit originated in the Austrian-Bohemian area. The small short pastry is shaped like a crescent and flavored with vanilla. Some recipes add grated almonds or other nuts. The smell of freshly baked Kipferl tends to be irresistible - especially when they're still warm.

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With or without butter?

In the Middle Ages, Advent was a time of fasting, so Stollen fruitcake contained neither butter nor raisins. The aristocracy, displeased with the lack of flavor, complained and eventually Pope Innocent VIII permitted the use of butter. Later raisins were added to the mix. These days there is even a low-fat version, which some now consider a sin against the traditional cake.

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Well moulded

The short-bread Spekulatius biscuit has its origins in the region of the lower Rhine on the Dutch-Belgian border. The dough gets its distinctive shape, usually rural motifs, from wooden molds. Before baking the biscuits are knocked out of the mold. Biscuits depicting St. Nicholas are a preferred gift to mark that saint's feast on December 6. Antique moulds are a much sought after collector's item.

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A traditional Christmas treasure chest

A Christmas package from Nuremberg is a coveted gift around the world. Filled with Lebkuchen, a kind of spiced gingerbread, it's one of the oldest festive sweet treats. This Bavarian town has been a production center for Lebkuchen since the 14th century. Lebkuchen are still produced according to ancient secret recipes, including the Elisenlebkuchen delicacy containing only 10 percent flour.

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It's all in the spice

Exotic spices like aniseed, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla or cinnamon have always made Christmas biscuits a special treat. If you like Zimtsterne, or cinnamon stars, then make sure they have been made using Ceylon-cinnamon. It might be slightly more expensive, but contains less of the harmful coumarin. But unless you plan to eat tons of them, cinnamon is unlikely to affect you at all.

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A feast of gingerbread

Aachener Printen, a type of gingerbread, really took off in the 19th century. Made without fat and sweetened with sugar beet syrup rather than honey, it was ready to be mass produced. Another variation to be added to this range is the "Dominostein" or dominos: a square piece of gingerbread, with a layer of sour cherry or apricot jelly, a layer of marzipan and covered in dark or white chocolate.

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It's the filling that counts

For advanced bakers Ochsenaugen, or ox eyes biscuits, also known regionally as saucer eyes, present no great challenge. The basis is a shortbread pastry either with or without almonds and with or without marzipan. The center of the biscuit is filled with currant or raspberry jam - to give it a fruity zing. For those who like it fruity but sweet they can also fill it with strawberry or apricot jam.

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Inspired by snowflakes

Light and airy the mass of grated coconut, egg white, sugar and a pinch of salt is neatly positioned on a wafer. What in Germany is known as a Makrone, is called a macaron in France - a kind of meringue made with almond flour. The use of a wafer base dates back to medieval kitchens. Incidentally it was not unusual to have an entire coconut adorn a plate of Christmas treats in the past in Germany.

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There is no witch in sight

A gingerbread house made of Lebkuchen is the sweet opposite of what the Grimm brothers described in their fairytale "Hansel and Gretel." A house made of sweets was so tempting that the poor and hungry kids couldn't resist entering the wicked witch's abode for a bite. Should you chose to make your own gingerbread house there are spice mixes and kits available to ensure you get it just right.

All over Germany there are traditional specialties on offer which you can only get during Advent. From classical treats like gingerbread all the way to home-baked Christmas cookies.

     

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German News Service