Yes, it it. The unmistakeable smell of Plaetzchen (biscuits). If there is one thing that reminds me of Christmas time in my childhood, it's this smell. There are some peculiarities in German culture, and this one is a very good example. There is a wealth of amazingly tasty biscuits that every self respecting family will bake in the run-up to Christmas (aka advent), and activity shared with the whole family. It fills every sense, the tactile kneading, the smell, the taste of dough and finished biscuits, the sound of Christmas carols, the sight of stars, moons and every Christmassy shape you can imagine. And somehow, in spite of this being so goody good, we only do it at Christmas. Which is a shame really. Because, arguably, these biscuits are one of the highlights of German cuisine. In my opinion anyway.
When I was a child, this was as good as the only baking we would do during the whole year. Well, there was occasional cake baking, but my mother hated the mess, she hated toddler/child me in the kitchen creating even more mess, and my dad never liked cakes (odd, I know). At the best of times, I was tolerated in the kitchen. Of course those negative kitchen vibes could not come between me and the love of baking Weihnachtsplaetzchen (Christmas cookies), and I would demand it anyway, contributing to a stressed out mood of my mother. Maybe she got stressed because we'd make about 3 or 4 receipes at once, which to be fair is highly stressful and also a tad boring. Biscuit baking is, after all, not a factory line production.
Christmas biscuits were given as presents, everyone seemed to have their personal best and so they were exchanged. Bakeries would sell their own home made biscuits and there were lengthy discussions about which were good and which weren't. It had to taste homemade, and if it didn't, the verdict was crushing.
After a baby induced break from making Christmas biscuits (my spirited daughter, for the past 2 years, did not allow me any opportunity to find the time and relaxed spirit needed to embark on Plaetzchen making and the year before that I was pregnancy-tired), I can proudly declare that 2 3/4 year after baby, I'm back at it.
Tonight I made one of my three all time favourites. They're called Vanille Kipferl, something like vanilla halfmoons in English. Fancy the recipie? Here you go:
50gr ground almonds
50gr gound hazelnuts
280gr flour (I use self raising)
70gr sugar (I use brown caster sugar)
200gr butter (unsalted if you can get your hand on it, if not, nevermind - I use butter at room temperature, 30 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
2 egg yolks
20 gr vanilla sugar (the one item not to be found in the UK! Don't despair, vanilla sugar is just that, sugar and vanilla. I add a double measure of vanilla essence plus increasing the amount of caster sugar by 20gr)
Mix everything together (apart from the icing sugar).
Knead into a dough. Wrap dough into aluminium foil and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 190 degree C.
Take small portions of the dough and quickly form into a roll the thickness of a big pencil (for this, knead through the portion briefly, then roll on the work surface with a tiny bit of flour).
Cut the roll into 5 cm long pieces and shape into half moons/circles.
Put on a baking tray (either buttered or use baking paper) and bake in the middle of the oven at 190 degree C until golden (7-10 minutes depending on size of your biscuits and whether you have a fan assisted oven or not).
Take out, let cool for a few minutes but not too long (they should still be warm), then roll the biscuits in icing sugar (or vanilla sugar if you can get hold of some).
The biscuits store well in airtight containers.
Watch for toddlers and husbands who may sneakily eat them before Christmas, which of course is absolutely not tolerated. Only breakage may be eaten before Christmas.