The turkey is decimated, the frosty nights have set in and the urge to festoon the house with kitsch and sparkle is becoming overwhelming. Time for CHRISTMAS! The baking of goodies can commence, lights to illuminate the winter nights can be hung and the scent of evergreen will be in the house again.
My German heritage is never stronger in my life than at Christmas. I tend to stay close to the foods, pastries and traditions, but always allow for new ideas. My great-grandmother, my Oma Nestripke, made the journey from Germany to the U.S. with the ornaments she cherished for her Christmas tree. Tarnished and some broken, they nevertheless hung on her tree in America, each year, and they represented magic and possibility for me. Old, lead tinsel finished the Weihnachtsbaum of Oma's memory. Later in my life, the muted glint of that tree became a symbol in my mind of the hardship my German family experienced during both World Wars and in creating a life afterward of which they could be proud. Like the ornaments, their lives were tarnished in many ways and there are still questions for which I want answers. But the sparkle, shine and light came through and I'm glad for that history from which to learn.
Cooking and baking is one way I can connect to my heritage. I have only two relatives of the "old country" left. My Oma Käthe and my great aunt Gretel. Last year, my aunt compiled a cookbook of treasured family recipes, along with old photos of our family, Germany, and the homes and the farms from which we descend. Every year, the very first recipe I make is Heidesand. Translated, it means "heather sand" which is a reference to the sandy texture of these cookies. They are pictured in the photo at bottom right - white, round discs. They keep well and improve in flavor with age. I can, and have, eaten them till I'm sick. Oma says these are a family secret, but.....I believe that recipes are for sharing. So, here is the recipe. And, if anyone has questions about German recipes, I am happy to help.
(German Browned Butter Cookies)
***start these the day before baking***
1 ½ cups unsalted butter (don’t use salted!)
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla sugar OR 2 T. sugar rubbed with a half teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 T. milk
In medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter until deep golden brown. Be careful not to burn it, but the browner the butter, the better the flavor. Set aside and cool until butter has re-solidified. If you’re in a hurry, you can refrigerate to quicken the process. In electric mixer, whip cooled butter until foamy and light. Add sugar, vanilla sugar and milk and beat until foamy-white. Add 2 cups of the flour and the baking powder, gradually, to butter mixture until a dough forms. Use the last cup of flour to add in portions until the dough becomes cohesive. It should stick together, but not be sticky, and should be able to be formed into a sausage shape. Roll the dough into rolls 1 ¼ inch in diameter. You should make at least 3 rolls, but I often make five or six, as the smaller amounts of dough are easier to work with. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate the rolls for at least 4 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, take rolls out of refrigerator and allow to warm slightly at room temperature. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice rolls into cookie slices 3/8 inch thick. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. These don’t spread much, so place them close together. Bake for approx. 12-15 minutes until edges are barely browned. Remove from oven and leave on sheet. Dust heavily with confectioner’s sugar while hot. Let sit on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to waxed paper to cool. Continue with rest of batch. Store cookies with waxed paper in between layers in airtight container.