With cinnamon and cloves, these flourless German biscuits known as Zimtsterne definitely hit the spot for the festive season. But what I adore about them is the texture: biting into one, you get the thin, crisp meringue shell, then the delectably chewy edges and, finally, the sweet, soft interior. They keep well for up to two weeks, and are perfect for gifting.
2 egg whites
⅛ tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
225g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra (about 30g) for rolling out
220g almond meal
finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ tsp cinnamon powder
⅛ tsp ground cloves (optional)
rosemary or lavender sprigs for decorating* (optional)
1. Place egg whites in the bowl of a cake mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frothy – about 30 seconds. Add the salt and lemon juice and continue to beat until soft peaks form – about 1 minute. Add the icing sugar, one spoonful at a time, and continue to beat until thick and glossy. Transfer 100g of the meringue into a small bowl and cover with cling film or a small plate. Set aside in a cool place.
2. Add the almond meal, orange zest, cinnamon and cloves (if using) to the remaining meringue in the mixing bowl and place the bowl back onto the cake mixer, this time fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until you have a sticky, dough-like paste.
3. Sift some icing sugar (about 2 tablespoons) directly onto the kitchen bench, then tip the dough out and roll lightly in the icing sugar. Knead gently for a few seconds – it will still be slightly sticky – then divide the dough in two. Wrap each piece loosely in cling film, then press lightly to form slightly flattened discs. Refrigerate for about an hour.
4. Line a large oven tray with baking paper and have your biscuit cutters ready. Sieve a little more icing sugar onto your kitchen bench, then unwrap one of the dough discs. Dust both sides of the dough lightly with the icing sugar, then, with a rolling pin, gently roll out evenly to about 6mm thick.
5. Dip the biscuit cutters in some icing sugar, then stamp out shapes. Use a small metal spatula to lift the biscuits carefully and place on the lined baking tray. Save the offcuts. Repeat with the second piece of dough – sifting more icing sugar onto the workbench as needed – then press the offcuts together and re-roll to make more biscuits.
6. Using a small pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the reserved meringue on top of each biscuit. If the shape of your cookies is intricate, you might find it easier to spoon the meringue into a piping bag and pipe it onto the biscuits. Place a sprig of rosemary or lavender (if using) in the middle of each biscuit, then set the tray aside at room temperature for about an hour to dry out the meringue.
7. Preheat the oven to 150C fan-forced (170C conventional). Bake the biscuits for about 12 minutes, until they begin to colour at the edges. The base of the biscuits should be dry and lightly brown, and the centres soft and moist. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store the biscuits in an airtight container, or place in cellophane bags for gifts.
*Tip: Although they're traditionally star-shaped, it's also easy to cut and ice these biscuits as circles or ovals, decorated with a pretty sprig of rosemary or lavender.