Growing up, my family often made the classic cut-out sugar cookies during the holidays, but the act of baking Christmas cookies was never a particularly important tradition - until recently.
We have spent a few Christmases with my sister and brother-in-law in Stuttgart over the years, which are always filled with glühwein, schnapps, festive markets, and plenty of cakes and cookies.
The tradition of making Christmas cookies is longstanding in German culture, with various regional combinations of spice, sugar, citrus, and vanilla. Typically, baking happens at the start of December, so so the cookies can be shared with friends and family throughout the Advent season.
While I've always enjoyed the treats on our holiday trips to Stuttgart, I've never truly appreciated Christmas cookies until this year, when my sister decided to bring the German tradition home to our family Christmas in Detroit.
Between kneading and hand-forming the dough, these cookies can take quite a bit of time. Since there were two novices on board, we stuck to just a couple of recipes: a classic vanillekipferl (almond vanilla cresents) and my brother-in-law's family recipe for terrassen ("terrace" sugar cookies, included below). By the time we decorated the last batch of cookies with a dusting of powdered sugar, we were ready to put our feet up and and open a bottle of wine, but more than anything, we felt a sense of accomplishment.
With Christmas upon us tomorrow, the cookie stash is starting to dwindle, but I can say it's lasting a lot longer than our usual sugar cookies. The time and effort put into these recipes and the shared act of carrying on a tradition made this year's batch all the more enjoyable.
Terrassen (German Christmas Cookies)
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
5 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cups butter, chilled and cut into cubes (3 1/2 sticks)
1 cup apricot jam (or other spreadable jam of choice)
In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, and salt to combine. Add egg yolks and butter. With a hand mixer, beat on low until butter is pea-sized. With hands, knead dough until it comes together. The mixture will look very dry for some time; keep kneading and the dough will eventually form a ball. Wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
On a floured surface, roll dough 1/4-inch thick. Using one large and one small cookie cutter of the same shape, cut half the dough into one size, and half into the other.*
On a greased baking sheet, bake until edges just begin to golden, 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool.
Using a spoon, top each of the larger cookies with a small dollop of jam, then with a smaller cookie. Dust with powdered sugar and seal in an airtight container up to 6 weeks.
*If these cookie cutters aren't available, use two different sized cups to make circles.