Zimmetsterne (usually spelled Zimtsterne today) are a traditional German Christmas cookie. The name means “cinnamon stars;” although of course you can make them any shape, they are traditionally made with a star cutter.
I originally found this recipe in English, in the 1904 book German National Cookery for American Kitchens. This is an English translation of the German-language cookbook Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika (Practical Cookbook for Germans in America), published in Wisconsin in 1879. Wisconsin had a large population of German immigrants at the time; according to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the 1880 census recorded 184,328 German-born residents. By 1900, about 10% of the population of Wisconsin were German immigrants, so there would have been a large market for a German-language cookbook.
The 1879 Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika, however, is itself an adaptation of an earlier work, Praktisches Kochbuch Für Die Gewöhnliche Und Seinere Küche by Henriette Davidis. First published in 1844, the Praktisches Kochbuch (Practical Cookbook) became one of the most popular cookbooks in Germany and went through several editions before its adaptation for German-American audiences in 1879 (after the author’s death).
I was curious to see if the 1904 English translation was accurate, so, using a combination of my half-remembered high school German and good old Google Translate, I compared it with both the 1879 American cookbook and with two earlier editions (1847 and 1858) of Henriette Davidis’s original Praktisches Kochbuch. All three German versions are very similar, although the exact wording of the instructions varies slightly between editions. The main difference is the amount of cinnamon; the 1847 edition calls for 2 Loths (29.24 grams) of cinnamon, the 1858 edition calls for 1/2 Loth (7.31 grams), and the 1879 version calls for 1/8 Unze (3.65 grams) of cinnamon. These are all very different amounts, which might be why the English translation gives up and just doesn’t provide any measurement for cinnamon at all.
1879 Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika
The 1858 and 1879 versions also add that the Zimmetsterne are sehr gut – “very good.”
- 233.85 g ground unblanched almonds
- 233.85 g sugar, sifted
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
- Continue to beat while gradually adding sugar.
- Take out about half a cup of the mixture and set aside.
- Mix together ground almonds, cinnamon, and lemon zest.
- Stir almond mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Dough should be stiff enough to roll out; if it is too soft or sticky, add more ground almonds.
- Put dough in between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper dusted with sugar and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick.
- Cut out star shapes. Reroll and cut the scraps.
- Using a small brush, coat the tops of the cookies with the reserved egg white and sugar mixture.
- Bake at 250 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, until the cookies are set but still a little soft underneath.
These cookies are essentially just very thick meringues. Using unblanched almonds is definitely important; the almond skins add a depth of flavor (oddly reminiscent of tea). The cinnamon is delicious and the lemon flavor is subtle at first, but gets stronger over time.
I used regular granulated sugar for these, although all the modern recipes I have seen call for powdered sugar. Powdered sugar was not commercially available in the early 19th century, so most recipes using finer sugar would instruct the cook to pound their own sugar. Since Henriette Davidis did not specify this in any of the editions of her cookbook, I assumed that she just meant to use regular sugar. I have not had any modern Zimtsterne to compare this to, but it’s possible that they might have a slightly finer texture than these cookies as a result of the powdered sugar. Otherwise, this recipe is very similar to most modern versions.
Out of all the Christmas cookies I have made so far this season, these have gotten the most compliments and I already had requests to give the recipe out to friends before I even finished writing this blog post. So, congratulations to Henriette Davidis, for writing a recipe that’s still a favorite after 177 years! Sehr gut.
Davidis, H. (1847). Praktisches Kochbuch für die gewöhnliche und feinere Küche. Düsseldorf, Germany: Schaub. http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/urn/urn:nbn:de:hbz:061:1-40760
Davidis, H. (1858). Praktisches Kochbuch für die gewöhnliche und feinere Küche. Bielefeld, Germany: Verlag von Velhagen und Klasing. https://archive.org/details/bub_gb__jVdAAAAcAAJ
Davidis, H. (1879). Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: George Brumder’s Verlag. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Praktisches_kochbuch_f%C3%BCr_die_Deutschen/r8QqAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Davidis, H. (1904). German national cookery for American kitchens. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: C.N. Caspar Co. Book Emporium. https://www.google.com/books/edition/German_National_Cookery_for_American_Kit/k25CAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Obsolete German units of measurement (2021). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsolete_German_units_of_measurement
Wisconsin Historical Society (n.d.). Germans in Wisconsin. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS2041