I have never really been a big fan of Swiss biscuits, Christmas or otherwise. In all fairness, I haven’t really sampled too many because, quite frankly, they are not always the most appealing when lined up next to the fancy American cookies or British biscuits. When presented with the choice between a cookie oozing with morsels of chocolate and a Läckerli, the latter doesn’t stand a chance, despite the fact that Läckerli is derived from the German word lecker which means delicious. Indeed, Läckerli – a hard, spiced biscuit made from hazelnuts and honey – is delicious, but just not my everyday biscuit of choice.
Just last week, my lovely neighbours from downstairs knocked on my door to present me with a gorgeous little box filled with homemade Christmas cookies. They had busied themselves the previous day with some leisurely baking and icing of cookies, a day which has since been recounted with much humour after it was found that the only cookie cutters they had were of a dolphin and a penguin. A knock on another neighbours’ door and a further cookie cutter was added to the collection – a mushroom. And so explains the Christmas cookies which were given to me which, at the time, appeared to be a cute but an unusual collection of shapes for this time of year. But I didn’t give it to much thought as I proceeded to devour most of the cookies later that afternoon. Although I had wished that I had been at home when they were in need of some Christmas cookie cutters (given my modest but rarely used collection), their cookies were obviously made with much love and thought, and there is much charm in a dolphin cookie at Christmas, I think 🙂
Amongst their selection of homemade treats were some Baumnuss-Guetzli, a Swiss seasonal cookie (Guetzli) made from ground walnuts (Baumnuss). They are a rather wholesome-looking cookie, flecked with different shades of brown and are traditionally glazed with a frosting flavoured with Kirsch. They are sweet and chewy in taste, almost like a macaroon, and taste very similar to the Italian Ricciarelli which are made with ground almonds. In short, they are delicious.
If you are not a fan of Kirsch, you could leave it out of the glaze. I had thought about making a lemon icing instead which would go very nicely with the sweetness of the cookies, but I didn’t want to deviate too much from the traditional recipe. Well, not yet anyway 🙂
This recipe comes from Betty Bossi, a popular figure in Switzerland who has a vast array of cookbooks aimed at simple but tasty recipes. Her cookbooks in Switzerland have a similar cult status to the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks in Australia – there is at least one to be found in each home. Stories abound about how some of her recipes are so popular that it is not uncommon to be invited to a Swiss person’s home for dinner and recognise the dish that the host has prepared.
Betty Bossi has been around since the late 1950’s, inspiring Swiss housewives (and husbands) to recreate Swiss classics at home, as well as modern and international cuisine. She is perhaps the most successful businesswoman in Switzerland with a multi-million dollar empire spanning from the aforementioned cookbooks to popular kitchenware and bakeware, and also pre-prepared meals and other food products. She is the Martha Stewart of Switzerland, if you will. Incredible given that Swiss women were only granted the right to vote in 1971 and could only recently open their own bank account. Alas, she is fictitious. Phew. Such a feat achieved by a “real” woman in Switzerland would have been an incredible story, but the history behind the creation and nurturing of the fictitious Betty Bossi is both intriguing and entertaining.
These walnut Christmas cookies are a Swiss classic, something which has slowly prompted in me a change in heart about Swiss cookies in general. And for that, I am grateful to my wonderful neighbours downstairs.
- For the cookies
- 2 egg whites
- pinch of salt
- 225 g (8 oz) ground walnuts
- 150 g (5.3 oz) ground hazelnuts
- 200 g (7 oz) caster sugar
- For the glaze
- 150 g (5.3 oz) icing sugar
- 1½ tablespoon water
- 1½ teaspoon Kirsch
- walnut halves to decorate
- Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff.
- If ground walnuts are not available where you live, simply place the same weight of whole walnuts in the food processor and blitz until they are finely processed.
- Add the ground walnuts, ground hazelnuts and sugar to the egg whites, and mix everything together to form a sticky dough.
- Place some cling film or, even better, a silicon baking mat onto the kitchen bench. Tip the mixture on this work surface and roll it out to about 1 cm thick. Use a cookie cutter of your choice (e.g. flower, Christmas tree, star) and cut out your shapes, re-rolling the mixture as needed.
- Place the shapes on a sheet of baking paper and leave them to dry for about 6 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, until they are lightly browned.
- Cool the cookies on a wire rack.
- Make the glaze by whisking together the icing sugar, water and Kirsch. Gently dip one side of the cookies into the icing mixture and let any excess icing drip off.
- Place the iced cookies on a wire rack and decorate with a walnut halve.
As a slight variation, you can also use ground almonds in place of the ground walnuts and ground hazelnuts.
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