Day 2: It’s beginning to taste a lot like Weihnachten

Well, it did, about three months ago, when the first batch of Christmas snacks hit the German grocery store shelves. Since then their numbers have been steadily increasing, making it harder every day to resist the urge to buy all the Christmas foods! Because assembling yesterday’s list of our favorite Advent calendars we had to say ‘no’ to this year was so much fun, the duck and I decided to present you with yet another list. This one covers one of the duck’s absolute favorite (dream-)subjects: COOKIES, or, in a broader sense, Christmassy baked goods that you just have to try if you want to get a taste of Weihnachten!Christmas cookie duckOf course there are a lot of seasonal baked goods that, in the duck and my opinion, you have to try at least once in your lifetime. However, to make it easier for you and even more so for us, we limited our selection to the sugary snacks we could find in the Christmas food section at local grocery stores. Also, because the duck and I are super picky, we want to stress that those snacks are by no means all our favorites. We actually do have rather strong feelings toward Lebkuchen and Marzipan, but we also want to give you the opportunity to form your own strong feelings and opinions. Anyway, enough blabbering, let’s get to it:

Our Baker’s Dozen of German Christmas treats you have to try

So, in no particular order, here is our personalized selection of must-try German Christmas treats of the baked variety (thank you, trusty phone for providing us with your not-so-great camera, and grocery store clerks for not throwing us out because ‘they’re probably just a set of weirdos who randomly photograph goods without buying them’).
Also, a little disclaimer: I’m pretty sure that not all those sweets originate from Germany. But they are what we found in the grocery stores, so… that qualifies them!

1. Lebkuchen/Pfefferkuchen
Of course we have to start the list with a classic. Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen (depending on who you are talking to) are the German attempt at gingerbread. They look like big cookies but are often rather soft so that they remind more of a cookie-shaped cake. They come in many different shapes and varieties, but are generally made with honey and an assortment of spices, like ginger (duh), cloves, allspice and/or cardamon, just to name a few. Nuts and candied fruit are also a common addition to the list of ingredients that makes this popular Christmas treat such an interesting flavor experience. Lebkuchen are often coated with dark chocolate or some kind of glaze (maybe egg-white? We’ve actually never made any ourselves) and have a thin wafer at the bottom. Those of you who are familiar with Oktoberfest might also have seen Lebkuchenherzen, those harder, heart-shaped Lebkuchen with oftentimes cheesy messages written in between a colorful sugar-border. There are so many different types of this Christmas treat so that the duck and I had to add more than one photo to give you a general idea of the concept of Lebkuchen.

2. Dominosteine
Now that you know what a Lebkuchen is, let’s continue on… to the abomination that is the Dominostein. And, no, despite the shared name with a tile in the famous family classic Dominoes, a game that helped me learn how to look at a die and know the number it shows instantaneously without having to count each individual dot, this Christmas snack is of the edible kind (or, by the definition of my high school physics teacher, of the ‘edible more than once’ kind). christmasfoods-9Dominostein is a small cube-shaped sweet that combines all those interesting flavors of Christmas into one. Remember the photo of the jam-filled Lebkuchen that you probably looked at about half a minute ago, the one on the right? Well, if you add marzipan to that, you pretty much have all the layers of a traditional Dominostein: Lebkuchen, fruit-jam (usually apricot or cherry), and Marzipan. This three-layered monster is then covered with dark (or sometimes milk) chocolate and sold to unsuspecting shoppers. Not all varieties are the same, but, generally speaking, this is what you have to prepare yourself for if you ever want to try a Dominostein. And, if you ask the duck and me, you definitely should! They are rather popular and pretty much give you German Christmas in a bite.

3. Marzipankartoffeln
Yes, Christmas in Germany is so German that even the year-round classic, Marzipan, becomes Germanified (I’m sure that’s not a word) during the Christmas season by being sold in the shape of potatoes as ‘marzipan potatoes’! Yay! Germany! Okay, for those of you who might be grossed out, not by the Marzipan-part (I know quite a few people who are), christmasfoods-10but by the potato part: it’s still about 99% good old Marzipan, that sugary almond-paste that is so popular (among tourists) in Germany. The remaining 1% is a cocoa-powder coating, sometimes with some cinnamon added in, that gives the oftentimes little (usually around 2-3cm), but sometimes real-life potato-sized, almond-y Marzipan balls the finishing touch. Those were a lot of (non-)adjectives. Before we go over to the next snack we’d like to add a little note: Apparently there is also a cake-like potato-shaped dessert called Marzipankartoffel. The ‘marzipan potatoes’ we described here, however, are the ones consisting of mainly Marzipan that are eaten primarily during the Christmas season.

4. Spekulatius
Of course there is no Christmas without Christmas cookies! And there are A LOT of varieties that, were we even crazy enough to attempt to list them all, we would definitely need way more spots for than the remaining nine (yay, math!) on our personal list of sweet Christmas treats to try. However, one that is more commonly bought than baked and therefore definitely a must on this list is Spekulatius, a spiced cookie that comes in many fancy shapes that you probably need a very specific mold for. Usually, much like Lebkuchen, Spekulatius cookies tend to include many different spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon and ginger. Some also have flaked almonds at the bottom (because the intricate scenery on top must not be destroyed). For those of you who are just not that into spices in cookies (we get it) there also is Butterspekulatius that comes in the same fun shapes, but pretty much tastes like a regular German butter cookie. What is our favorite shape, you may ask? The elephant. Maybe. They’re all fun to look at, which is why we eat one of each design in every single sitting in order to not discriminate.
We’re pretty sure that this treat did not originate in Germany, but, as we noted earlier: if it’s popular during Christmas time in Germany, it has earned a spot on this list!

5. Weihnachtsstollen/Christstollen
At this point we are asking ourselves why we had to be so ambitious (is it just for a silly joke? The answer is ‘yes’). But, this amazing bread/cake/pastrysentfromheaven definitely has to be on this list because, if we had to choose a favorite Christmas pastry, this would be it: Stollen, the beautiful fruit bread that the duck and I are too incompetent to make. A Stollen actually wouldn’t be very sweet if it weren’t for the dried candied fruit in it and the thick layer of powdered sugar on top. The dough often includes lemon zest and spices like cinnamon or cardamon (definitely fewer spices than you would expect after some of the previous examples), and the aforementioned dried, or sometimes candied, fruit and nuts (usually almonds) that give each slice this characteristic speckled look. If you buy (or bake) a Marzipanstollen, obviously, there would also be a string of Marzipan baked into the dough so that each slice would have a sweet Marzipan center. If you’re out and about without a knife (how weird), you can also get a box of Stollenkonfekt, little 3-bite-sized (by the duck and my estimation) baby-Stollen. Stollen is not for everyone, because raisins are not for everyone. But if you don’t have an excruciatingly deep hatred for raisins, we do recommend trying a slice of Stollen or a piece of Stollenkonfekt for a general idea of what the meaning of life tastes like (some might say).

6. Gebrannte Mandeln
Candied almonds are a staple at pretty much every sweets stall at the Christmas market. And, if you can’t wait (or are too lazy) to go to the Christmas market to get a nicechristmasfoods-18 paper bag filled with crunchy toasted sugar-coated almonds (sometimes with a hint of cinnamon or vanilla), you can just get a pack at the local grocery store long before even the first Christmas market stall of the year is set up. Grocery stores also sell other varieties of special Christmas almonds (you can tell by the festive packaging), like chocolate- or cinnamon-coated ones. Gebrannte Mandeln, however, are the standard German Christmas(market) nut.

7. Baumkuchen
Baumkuchen is very fancy and, apparently, rather popular in Japan. It is also a popular Christmas treat in Germany, so it has well earned its spot on this list. Baumkuchen translates to ‘tree cake’ which makes sense if you look at the thin layers within the ring-shaped cake (which gets its shape from being made on a spit) that remind of the age rings of a tree. Making a Baumkuchen takes a long time as each layer needs to fully dry before a new one can be added. I guess that is what makes it so fancy. The varieties you can get at the grocery stores around Christmas are usually covered with milk- or dark chocolate. If buying a whole cake (well, a unit? The actual spit the cake is made on can be rather long) is too much commitment, you can also buy a pack of individual (chocolate-covered) slices, called Baumkuchenspitzen, ‘tree cake tops’, to share… or eat all by yourself!

8. Zimtsterne
Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), star-shaped cookies with a taste of cinnamon and a meringue (=whipped egg whites and sugar) frosting, are usually part of any grocery store Christmas cookie display. Different from Spekulatius, they are also a popular Christmas cookie to bake at home. Traditionally Zimtsterne are made with ground (or finely chopped) almonds, christmasfoods-19egg whites, sugar, cinnamon and very little flour, a combination that gives them their distinctive taste. Even though there probably are hundreds of different kinds of cookies that people like to eat and/or bake for Christmas, Zimtsterne seem to be synonymous with Christmas cookies, and thus are some of the first Christmas snacks to appear on the grocery store shelves once the commercial Christmas season has officially begun.

9. Vanillekipferl
After Zimtsterne, Vanillekipferl are probably the second most popular grocery store Christmas cookie variety that is also relatively easy and fun to bake at home (the duck and I know that we will bake at least one batch this year). Those crescent shaped, powdered sugar-kissed, Christmas cookies can christmasfoods-20include a range of ingredients. Most of the time they are made with a type of nut (often walnuts, but other nuts are not uncommon) and some vanilla flavoring, often mixed in with the powdered sugar on top. However, the duck and I have seen nut-free Vanillekipferl and there are even some recipes that don’t even call for any form of vanilla, despite the name. Nuts and vanilla or not, Vanillekipferl are a popular component of any kind of German Christmas party (and the duck and my tummies, once we have given in to the call of the Christmas cookies).

10. Spritzgebäck
Spritzgebäck roughly translates to squirted cookie or spritz cookie. Right after Spekulatius, Vanillekipferl and Zimtsterne they are the most prominent cookie variety to be found at the grocery store around Christmas time. That probably has to do with the simple recipe (for a plain cookie you don’t really need anything but the baking staples: flour, butter, eggs and sugar) that almost ensures that there are very few people who don’t at least tolerate this Christmas classic. What sets this cookie apart from a basic butter cookie, however, is its shape. As the name suggests, the dough is squirted or pressed onto a baking sheet with a cookie press or a piping bag with an appropriately patterned nozzle. This is why, despite the simple ingredients, the lack of an appropriate dough-squeezing-apparatus in many German homes, makes Spritzgebäck a Christmas cookie variety that is often enjoyed store-bought. For those who like a bit more variety, an extra-step can be added to the cookie-making process: Once the cookies are baked and cooled off, they often are half dipped in chocolate, which gives them a nice black and white look. Since the shape is what gives those cookies their name, the ingredients of Spritzgebäck can be manifold. A popular variety that is often sold in stores, alongside the plain and chocolate covered cookies, has hazelnuts added to the dough.

11. Kokosmakronen
We get it. Listing lots of different Christmas cookie varieties toward the end of the list kinda looks as if we’re cheating. But we’re not! See, there are just so many different Christmas cookie varieties, that we couldn’t add them all to this list, even if we wanted to! christmasfoods-15Kokosmakronen (coconut macaroons) are a classic variety, though, that you might be able to find at one or the other grocery store around Christmas. The little mounts made of desiccated coconut, egg whites, sugar and not much more, apart from, maybe, a hint of cinnamon and a wafer at the bottom for stability and/or some chocolate drizzled on top, are a popular, relatively easy to make at home, Christmas treat… to some. To others it’s more like coconot, amirite?! Yep, it’s time to go over to the next treat.

12. Anisgebäck
Anisgebäck is a tricky one, actually. However, when the duck and I were about to give up, we spotted packs of those light anise-flavored cookies in the Christmas area of a drugstore, so we decided to add christmasfoods-14them to our list (also, whose idea was it to list a dozen snacks? That’s so stupid!). While the ones we found were round, probably piped onto the baking sheet before they were put in the oven, you might also see varieties that were placed in  molds, then dried, then baked, which gives them beautiful, intricate designs. In that case they are often called Springerle, but usually still have that distinctive anise flavor that gives them, well, one of their names. Even if you don’t like anise at all it’s still worth buying some Springerle, just to look at them, as you might with a Lebkuchenherz that reminds you of a romantic date with your sweetheart whenever you read the charming inscription: ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.

13. Schokolade
To get to the Baker’s Dozen, the duck and I had to cheat a little bit. Some might argue that chocolate is not a Christmas exclusive, others might wonder how it can be counted as a baked good (but it’s often used for baking, just sayin’). Those are all valid points. However, since this is the duck and my list, we decided to include chocolate anyway. And we’ll give you three reasons why:
While chocolate is amazing all the year round and is thus not necessarily considered Christmassy, chocolate shaped like Christmas characters sure is – and there’s lots of that at the grocery stores these days, some even outside an Advent calendar. Just look at all those pretty, Christmassy shapes!

If you’re going for a more Christmas-like taste, there are also lots of seasonal varieties that are only sold during the Christmas season (which, according to stores, is September to January, ha!), like chocolate balls filled with nut brittle toffee, or little chocolate bars filled with a cinnamon-milk cream. Sure, some stores also sell ‘seasonal’ chocolate with different kinds of milky or nutty fillings (a taste that is particularly popular from around September to August). But festive packaging makes everything prettier and, come Easter, the manufacturers just have to turn the snowflakes and golden stars into pretty flowers on a pastel backdrop and the chocolate is ‘seasonal’ yet again!

We’ll conclude our list with boozy chocolate (egg liqueur and brandy seem to be especially popular), because after trying very hard to come up with 13 German grocery store Christmas treats to recommend, the duck and I feel rather tipsy, even though all we’ve had to drink is tea (but I guess that after all that writing and photo editing I am feeling a bit schlaftrunken, drunk with sleep… that I’m missing out on right now).
Sure, this is also just another variety of filled chocolate, but you could also see it as a drink transported in a chocolate-container, which makes it even less of a baked Christmas good. Whatever. We need to sleep!christmasfoods-29

This finally concludes this monster of a post (I promise you, and myself, that the following few posts will be substantially shorter) on German Christmas treats. That’s it! I shall write no more, except for a question:
What are your favorite Christmas treats to buy at the local grocery store?

The duck and a sleepy shell of a person

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