Christmas dishes from around the world Austrian Christmas cookies

Austria’s Christmas, like that of many European countries, begins on Christmas Eve when children eagerly await the Christkind who will bring good will to homes and Christmas presents galore. The traditional family Christmas feast takes place during the evening of Christmas Eve and afterward homemade cookies of all shapes and designs will be served. 

Though now a realtor, Bettina Baldwin is a trained pastry chef from Austria, and she joined fellow Austrian Christian Reiter, head chef at The Wharf, to share their much-loved Christmas cookie recipes from home with Weekender readers. 

First, we begin with the ubiquitous gingerbread, a versatile dough that is often turned into houses and shapes of little men and women at this time of year before being decorated and devoured. Christian recommends making your gingerbread cookies a few weeks before Christmas and then storing them in an airtight container so they will be nice and soft on eating on Christmas Eve. If you bite into your gingerbread straight after baking, it will be quite a crunch!  

Christian also suggests that adults enjoy their gingerbread cookies with a nice warming glass of mulled wine (though you may need to turn your A/C up full blast to get the full “Austrian” effect!)  

 

Ingredients: (makes enough to fill a couple of good sized platters) 

  • 1 lb rye flour 
  • 5 oz wheat flour 
  • 1 ½lbs runny honey 
  • 2 ½oz sugar 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 fl oz water 
  • About a tsp each of ground all spice, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, or to taste (Christian says you can be creative with your spices – try black pepper, nutmeg or cloves as well) 
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • Milk and sugar for glazing 

 

Mix all the ingredients (apart from the glazing ingredients) together in a food mixer until well combined, taking care to periodically scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to ensure all the ingredients are incorporated. Once mixed into a soft dough, flour a work surface and knead gently for a minute or two until the dough is nice and smooth. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and then chill for a good few hours, preferably overnight. (The dough can be refrigerated up to a week before use.) 

Once the dough is properly chilled, allow to come to room temperature for about 20 minutes then divide into two portions. Working with a portion at a time, flour your work surface and roll dough out to about a quarter of an inch thick, and stamp gingerbread shapes of your choice. Christian says traditional shapes include bells, hearts, stars, circles, as well as the well-known gingerbread men shapes.  

Place on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for around 8 minutes, until just golden. At this point your kitchen will be filled with the enticing aromas of ginger, cinnamon and so on. Leave to cool and then glaze with a quarter of a pint of milk and two tablespoons of sugar that have been heated in a pan until the mixture has thickened. Brush the thickened mix all over the cookies for a shiny glaze.  

Then, have fun decorating. Embellishments can include icing, sprinkles, nuts and dried fruits, such as cherries. 

Christian says when you leave the cookies in an airtight container or cookie jar for a few weeks to soften, you can also place with the cookies a cinnamon stick or dried orange peel to give extra flavor. At home in Austria, the earliest anyone would be allowed to touch their Christmas cookies would be Christmas Eve, he says. 

 

Linzer Augen 

Bettina recalls Christmas as a youngster growing up in Austria and says that around 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve the house would be filled with the warm smell of Christmas spices as the children eagerly awaited the ringing of the bell by the Christkind. Once the bell rang to signify that the house had been blessed, the children would pile into the living room and candles would be lit to illuminate the sparkling Christmas tree. Everyone would sing “Silent Night” around the tree and then presents could be opened and the feasting could begin.  

One of Bettina’s favorite Christmas cookies is called Linzer Augen, delicious jam-filled butter cookies that melt in the mouth, with a lovely sweet chewy centre.  

 

Ingredients: (makes enough to fill a couple of good sized platters) 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar 
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest 
  • 1 ½ sticks plus two tbsp butter,softened 
  • 3 large egg yolks 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1/3 cup seedless raspberry or apricot jam or jelly. (Bettina says guava jelly would make a nice Cayman alternative.) 

 

Place all the ingredients in a food mixer and mix until you have a soft dough. Don’t forget to keep scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl to incorporate all the mix. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead until you have a nice, soft dough, just for a couple of minutes. Cover the dough with cling wrap and refrigerate for a good few hours, preferably overnight. As with the gingerbread, the dough can be refrigerated for up to a week before using.  

When you are ready to bake, gently heat the jam in a saucepan (don’t let it boil) until the lumps disappear and the jam or jelly is runny and glossy. Leave to cool. Unwrap your dough and allow to come to room temperature (about 20 minutes). Divide into two portions then roll the dough out, one portion at a time, to about 1/8 of an inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter preferably 2½ inches in diameter, cut out rounds of dough. Use a smaller cookie cutter (around 1 inch in diameter) to stamp out the middle of half the rounds. Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with grease proof paper and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8 minutes until just light brown. Allow to cool.  

Once cooled, drop a teaspoonful of the jam into the centre of the whole round cookies and then place a cookie ring on top. Carefully fill up the centre hole a little more with jam, if desired. The jammy filling should peak through the hole. Allow to cool and eat!  

Equally delicious, this cookie dough can be simply stamped out in rounds and, once baked and cooled, dipped in dark chocolate and then left to chill.  

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Christian glazes the gingerbread cookies.

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A beautiful selection of Austrian Christmas cookies.

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Christian Reiter, head chef at The Wharf, and Bettina Baldwin, a trained pastry chef, with their homemade Austrian Chrismtas cookies.
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