This gingerbread cake with orange buttercream & bourbon caramel is lightly spiced, insanely fluffy, and perfect for a Christmas party!
**Update: I originally wrote about these DIY Painted Wine Glasses way back in 2013. If you came here from Pinterest, you’re in the right place! I just updated the pictures a bit and made a video – go check it out!**
I’m just going to start off this entire post with the disclaimer that this recipe for zimtsterne is absolutely not traditional. I’ve been known around these parts to bastardize traditional recipes, such as when I baked a “New York” cheesecake with mascarpone + amaretto or when I made tater tot poutine. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the internet, it’s that people get actually upset when you don’t make a recipe exactly like their recipe. It’s the precise reason that I probably will never post a recipe for goulash or huevos rancheros, and why I keep disclaimers on these posts in the first place. But I digress…this is about cookies.
Ever since I went to Germany, I’ve been obsessed with Germany. Like, all I think of is Five Elephant and eating schnitzel with fries + mayo. And then yesterday, I went to a local bakery in town, Bavarian World, and honest to god it’s probably one of my favorite places in Reno. On one side, there’s a bakery/market that has absolutely the best baklava and pretzel rolls, and pecan cakes. And then on the other side is a restaurant that I’ve never eaten at, but I have secret dreams of going on a date there Fast Times at Ridgemont High style. While I was in line waiting to buy my pretzel rolls and roast beef for Christmas-day lunch, I saw a package of zimtsterne, a star-shaped cinnamon cookie, which I had never heard of before, but then I got really excited (!!!) because I literally stayed up the night before trying to think of a cookie I could make with pistachios. And even though zimtsterne is usually made with almonds, I am having a love affair with pistachios almost always, so I figured I could add those too. Yay Bavarian World!!!
This past week, I’ve had approximately three or four different Christmas parties to attend, and I am partied tf out. I have spent two too many mornings hugging a Gatorade and popping Ibeuprofen for my headache after an evening of Moscow Mules and late-night tacos. Which is why I spent my Friday night listening to She & Him Christmas albums and making this cookie dough. And it was perfect, because it has to chill for at least a few hours, and it was perfectly chilly by the time I woke up to bake them this morning! Traditionally these cookies are made with a meringue, but there are two ways you can go about things:
1. If you’re a sinner, you can just add the egg whites straight to the dough (hi), which yields a denser, chewier cookie.
2. If you’re a traditionalist, you can whip up a meringue and fold the nut mixture into the meringue which will result in a cookie reminiscent of a macaron.
Out of sheer laziness, and because the last time I whipped egg whites ended in an epic failure, I went with the “adding the egg whites” option, and I love that the texture is somewhat biscuit-y and chewy. However, next time I’m going to try it the meringue way, because I also love airy cookies.
Now, if I can just somehow get myself back to Germany ASAP I promise to try real-life, traditional, Christmasy zimtsterne. Scout’s honor.
Makes 28 two-inch cookies
100 g ground, unsalted pistachios (about 1 c. whole)
200 g ground, unsalted almonds (about 2 c. whole)
100 g (about 1/2 c.) powdered sugar
50 g (1/3 c.) flour
2.5 g (1 tsp.) cinnamon
Zest of 1/2 orange
4.2 g (1 tsp.) vanilla extract
2 egg whites
200 g (about 1 c.) powdered sugar
30 g (2 Tbs.) orange juice
30 g (2 Tbs.) milk
2 g (1/2 tsp.) vanilla extract
In a food processor, combine pistachios and almonds. Pulse until they are finely ground, but be careful not to grind them too much, or they’ll turn into a nut butter! In a bowl, combine the ground nuts, powdered sugar, flour, cinnamon, and orange zest. Stir in the vanilla extract and egg whites until a crumbly dough forms*. Using your hands, knead until everything is mixed together and the dough forms. Flatten, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least an hour, but you can make it up to 2 days in advance.
Preheat oven to 350* F (170* C). After the dough has chilled, roll it on a powdered-sugar surface until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Using a star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out about 28 cookies, re-rolling as necessary. I like to dip the cookie cutter in powdered sugar before cutting, because it prevents sticking. Line on a greased baking sheet. They can be pretty close together, because they don’t puff up much. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until the edges are very lightly browned. Let cool completely.
*Alternatively, for airy cookies, you can whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the dry mixture into the egg whites, add the vanilla, and finish the recipe as directed.
While the cookies are baking, combine the remaining powdered sugar with the orange juice, milk, and vanilla. I start with 1 Tbs. each of orange juice and milk and add more liquid to get my desired consistency of icing. After the cookies have cooled, dip each one in the glaze. Add sprinkles if desired! Let harden, and keep stored in tupperware.
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: I’ll Be Home for Christmas by She & Him
Merry merry merry merry merry merry Christmas! Yesterday, I spent the entire day making Christmas treats with my mom. This year we made my grandma’s butter cookies with walnuts, snickerdoodles, nut caramels, sugar cookies, and I also made a new recipe I’ll be posting about soon! After all the baking commenced, we went to look at a huge Christmas light display held in Reno every year, and then we grabbed beers and burgers for good measure. It was the perfect way to celebrate my day off after my last final exam!
Although I will not be active over the next couple of days due to Christmas, I wanted to post one last recipe if you’re looking for yet another thing to bake for neighbors and friends (: Around the holidays, I get a little cookied out (okay, sugared out in general), but every once in a while, I want to grab a piece of bread or pudding or something instead of another cookie. This year, I decided to make spice cake with my grandma’s penuche frosting. If you’ve never had penuche frosting before, 1. Um, why?, and 2. It’s this amazing, brown-sugar, caramely flavored frosting you make in 5 minutes on your stovetop. It’s a frosting I never remember to make enough, and when I do, I’m transported back into family dinners as a little kid, eating this frosting but not knowing quite what it was. And now I present it to you as I share some of my family nostalgia!
As I’ve shared in the past, Reno is higher-altitude, so I made my high-altitude cake recipe, but I also have adjustments to make it at sea-level. I like to use a different combination of spices each time in my cake, depending on what I have in my pantry at the time, but cinnamon always makes an appearance, because, well cinnamon. Feel free to add spices if you like reeeally spicy cake, or cut back if spices aren’t your thing. I love adding ginger, but you could always add a few grinds of black pepper and some cardamom for a chai-spiced cake, or you could add a little cayenne if you’re really feeling really crazy*. Do what feels right.
*Clearly, my idea of getting crazy is disappointing, but if you add a little whiskey or wine to your holiday-baking spree, I’d be supes proud.
P.S. This recipe is not exclusive to Christmas – it’s good year-round, especially in the fall! I just posted it at Christmas, because I’m missing my grandparents (: One of my favorite memories is making lefse with my grandma around the holidays for our traditional Norwegian dinner on Christmas Eve! This year, I didn’t get around to making any, so if you’re a fellow Norwegian (Norski? Norwegianite?) and have some laying around, send it my way!
XO Sara Lynn
*Song of the Day: Must Be Santa by She & Him
I feel like time is going so.damn.fast. Like, when did it become winter, exactly? Also, it’s December 22, so hasn’t it already been winter for a long time? Honestly, when it comes to fall semester, I have no idea what’s going on outside of my classes, and I usually regret not taking advantage of the beautiful Reno fall weather! Fall in Reno is perfect, temperate, gorgeous leaves and colors, plenty of time for leaf-crunching with a cappuccino in my gloved hands. Luckily, the weather hasn’t been too cold around Reno quite yet, so I think I may get to enjoy some of those same perks, but instead it’ll be slightly drizzly and foggy instead. And, I’m on winter break so I actually have free time (?!?!?!?!?!)
A couple weeks ago, my brother agreed to take some senior photos for me, and of course, I wanted to take advantage of the last fall leaves, so we headed over to the arboretum at a local park and got to work. A lot of the leaves were gone, but those golden oranges and reds were still hanging around and I was in utter leaf bliss. I decided to keep my look simple with a classic black long sleeve, my new high-waisted Lucky’s, and my trusty smoking slippers. Also, I wore this beautiful lipstick my brother’s girlfriend bought me as a gift. It’s called Bumble from ColourPop, and lemme tell you all, I’m having major heart eyes over this brand – the lipstick doesn’t come off when I eat or drink! I’m in looooove.
Also, do any other tiny girls have a problem where jeans always have to be cuffed no matter what? I’m an avid Lucky Brand buyer – their jeans just look the best on me, I love the quality, the styles, and all that jazz. But they’re always too long! To be fair, all jeans are, and I know I just need to take them to a tailor or pull out my sewing machine and do it myself, but my sewing skill aren’t thaaaaat great, so….. Anyways, forever rocking that cuffed jean life, ya know? Do you think I’ll be lol-ing at these senior pictures in 10 or 20 years? Probably. But right now, I think they came out gorgeously! That lighting is perfection.
One last final thought – is it too late to make pumpkin bread? I never got a pumpkin bread fix, but I don’t want to be that rando that posts a pumpkin bread recipe in December (or more likely January). I don’t necessarily know why I’m turning this into a debacle in the first place considering I almost always post holiday recipes the day of if not a few days late anyways. HOWEVER! I do plan on having a holiday goodie to you ASAP! Probably Friday (;
But if you need a few ideas for the time being:
Just to name a few…I didn’t realize how many holiday recipes I had on the blog until I started typing them in! Not to worry. If you want more ideas, I have a ton on my Desserts page.
Also! Here’s a link to my Old Fashioned recipe. It’s not necessarily a holiday recipe, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it.
XO Sara Lynn
*Song of the Day: That Moon Song by Gregory Alan Isakov (also, a great album for relaxing while baking, unless you’re baking for Christmas, and then classic Christmas tunes are absolutely necessary).
I’ve decided to start off the official twelve days of Christmas by posting a holiday recipe every day until the 25th! Cookies, candies, and other foods that are bad for you (but it’s okay because it’s the holidays). The recipes will be some old, some new, but all worthy of your holiday baking list.
First Day of Christmas: German Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
This is an old recipe, dating back to 3 years ago (didn’t really think I had a blog that long ago tbh). These cookies remain one of my favorites, and I also like how they look snowy!
Second Day of Christmas: Soft Sugar Cookies with Sour Cream Frosting
These cookies are perfect for the holidays, because the recipe makes a lot, everyone likes them, and you can decorate them with holiday sprinkles. They take a little extra time than most cookies, but it’s worth it, I promise!
Third Day of Christmas: Orange Drop Cookies
This is my grandma’s recipe that I bake entirely too much (although, I don’t really see anyone complaining about it). It’s been one of my favorite desserts since I was really little. If you’re indecisive about holiday baking, just trust me on this: make these cookies.
Fourth Day of Christmas: Cheesecake Crumb Bars
Taking a break from the cookies to present cheesecake crumb bars! A mix between cheesecake, crumb cake, and shortbread. Customize with different flavors, or go simple with a little vanilla.
Fifth Day of Christmas: The Best Nut Caramel Ever
This is one of my family’s favorite holiday recipes! The caramel is super easy to make, and it’s customizable, because you can just add in whatever nuts you have on hand (although I highly recommend walnuts and hazelnuts). Wrap them in mini Christmas cupcake liners, because it’s cute.
Sixth Day of Christmas: Pineapple Zucchini Bread
This bread is a nice break from all the super sweet that comes with cookies and candy during the holidays. Filled with zucchini, walnuts, and pineapple, it’s perfect with a little butter and some coffee for breakfast!
Seventh Day of Christmas: Cinnamon Butter Candy
Unique, spicy, and the hardest part of the recipe is boiling the water. Wrap as a gift, and give your friends a break from peppermint chocolate bark. Or just keep it for yourself (trust me, you’ll want to)!
Eighth Day of Christmas: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
These are time consuming, but if you make these, you will pretty much win Christmas baking altogether. P.S. They’re not hard. They just have to rise for a few hours!
Ninth Day of Christmas: Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
These cookies are really easy to make, and I love how festive they are! Sweet from white chocolate, tart from the cranberries, and chewy from the oatmeal. Santa will be happy 🙂
Tenth Day of Christmas: Butter Cookies with Walnuts
Effortless, buttery icebox cookies filled with walnuts that melt when you eat them. Keep them simple with vanilla, or add extra flavors to get more creative with your holiday baking. This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so you have plenty to wrap up and gift!
Eleventh Day of Christmas: Espresso Hot Chocolate with Vanilla Whipped Cream
This is by far my favorite hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Only 5 ingredients and perfect for Christmas brunch!
Twelfth Day of Christmas: Norwegian Lefse
My family’s Christmas tradition every year! Lefse is a cross between a tortilla and a crepe, made out of potatoes. I look forward to making lefse every year, because it’s fun and of course, it tastes amazing! If you’ve ever wanted to make Nordic food, this is the best place to start.
Merry Christmas, my friends ♥
You can ask anyone in my family about my hot chocolate preferences, and they will tell you that I am a hot chocolate snob. No really, that’s a thing, and I am part of the demographic. When I was really little, my dad would make me hot chocolate every night with Ovaltine. If it was too hot outside, he would make me chocolate milk. I called it “brown milk” and I specifically remember asking for it while my parents read me my books. So naturally, the first time I had the packet-mixed-with-water type of hot chocolate, I was sorely underwhelmed. As a kid, I hated it, and I hate it now. I don’t even want flavored hot chocolates-peppermint, orange zest, and cayenne pepper have no right. I’ll just take my regular hot chocolate made with milk and Ovaltine or some type of pretentious homemade chocolate syrup, thank you very much.
Until now….Because in case we haven’t yet discussed my obsession with coffee or how I want to own my own cafe someday (we have), I have quite the love affair with all things coffee. And like my hot chocolate, I don’t want extra added flavors-I want pure, good quality, black coffee, maybe with a little cream and sugar when I have a craving.
I was fairly skeptical at the idea of mixing together my beloved espresso with hot chocolate. While I do appreciate a good mocha every once in a while, it’s not usually my cup of
tea coffee, and I wasn’t really looking to make a mocha here. What I really wanted was a creamy hot chocolate with intense cocoa flavor. Borrowing the idea that sometimes coffee is added to chocolate cake recipes to enhance the cocoa flavor, I decided adding a little espresso to my hot chocolate might to do the same thing.
I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I will reiterate that this is not a mocha. The espresso is definitely noticeable, but its main function is to complement the cocoa flavor. I added some vanilla whipped cream to the top, which melts with the heat, and creates this cool layer on top that mixes in with the hot chocolate, and overall, it was probably my favorite part. Honestly, I was worried that with only five ingredients, it would be bland, but it was anything but.
Merry Christmas Eve to you and your family! Make this hot chocolate when you’re opening presents or having dessert tonight, or even for breakfast tomorrow. It’s the perfect mix of your favorite childhood drink and your favorite (morning) adult drink, so it will be sure to make everyone happy!
*Song of the Day: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Frank Sinatra
Times my family uses my great grandmother’s china: 1. When I’m in town and pull it out of the cabinet with the upmost precision so I can take pretty, feminine pictures of cookies delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar. 2. For a holiday about once ever four years when my mom doesn’t talk herself out of using the plates, because they have to be handwashed. Other than that, they essentially sit in little boxes, covered in bubbly plastic wrap stacked neatly on top of one another. I’d like to think that someday I will have a fancy Alice in Wonderland themed tea party or host an extravagant ball that requires black ties and antique, fragile plates laced with gold. But for now, they’re the host of my grandma’s crumbly butter cookies that are filled with walnuts and literally melt while you eat them.
I love these cookies, because they’re extra easy, only six ingredients, and it makes lots of cookies to gift to your neighbors and coworkers. My family has been making these cookies for as long as I can remember, although, if we’re being honest, I got all creative and added the almond extract. I really think it adds extra flavor to these cookies, but you can also leave it out if you want simpler, more vanilla-flavored cookies or if you just don’t have almond extract laying around.
On the other hand, you could also go crazy with these cookies and add whatever you have laying around your kitchen. Dried fruits, nuts, citrus zest, cocoa powder, vanilla bean, etc. The cookies are so versatile that you could get extra creative and add some matcha powder or lavender buds or even dip them in chocolate. If you don’t have time to bake, these cookies are the effortless, buttery, icebox cookies your kitchen needs right now.
Song of the Day: Everlasting Arms by Vampire Weekend
About once a year, my mom visits me in Reno and we take a day visit to Virginia City with my aunts, cousins, and grandmas. Since I’m already aware that you have no idea what Virginia City is, Mark Twain used to write there, and it’s a pretty popular place to take “old-timey” photographs dressed in stockings and boas with a sepia filter.
Virginia City is also the home to multiple candy shops, which are famous for their cinnamon candy. If you ask my mom or aunts, all of them will tell you about how much they used to look forward to visiting Virginia City just to get their famous cinnamon butter candy.
This year for Christmas, my mom and I decided we would try to recreate the recipe for our friends and family. It took 3 batches and multiple trips to the store, but we got pretty close.
First off, let me give you a few opinions on cinnamon oil vs. cinnamon extract. We first tried cinnamon extract, because it’s much cheaper and easier to find than cinnamon oil. First, we tried 2 tsp., and it was not flavorful enough. The next batch, we tried 4 tsp., and it still wasn’t what we were looking for.
We then researched where we could find cinnamon oil, called a special store, made a trip to said store, spent $15 on a bottle, and used it in the third batch. While it was spicier than extract, it still wasn’t exactly what we wanted out of our cinnamon candy.
The candy isn’t really what we thought it would be (since we had the high expectations from Virginia City), but we ended up loving it! While we were looking for that artificial cinnamon flavor (like in Red Hots or Cinnamon Jolley Ranchers), we actually got a real cinnamon flavor, which was a pleasant surprise.
In the end, if you like spicy, get some cinnamon oil online (it’s cheaper over Amazon!), or just go the easy way and buy cinnamon extract. Either way, you’ll end up with a buttery, unique hard candy that’s really easy to make and can be packaged up as a gift (alternative for peppermint bark??)
*Photos courtesy of my brother*
*Song of the Day: Inside Out by Spoon*