I like Plätzchen for a few different reasons. First (and most obviously) cookies are one of the greatest foods ever invented. Full stop. Regardless of where in the world it is, any country that has a tradition of cookie-baking is fine by me. Second, Plätzchen are usually quite small and cute - they’re the perfect treat to accompany an afternoon tea or coffee - and when you have small cookies that means it's totally okay to have two or five or six, right? Third, I love the holiday tradition surrounding Plätzchen. You won’t find cookies in Germany any other time of year – it’s a limited Christmas-time-only thing, which just makes it feel really special.
This year, I had the pleasure of participating in (well, mostly just observing) two Plätzchen baking parties. My friend Jasmin hosted a girls’ night Plätzchen baking extravaganza, and my flatmate Anna invited several of her friends over for a night of baking. Jasmin's party was officially my first time baking Plätzchen. Six of us descended upon Jasmin, with mixers, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and refrigerated lumps of homemade dough, and proceeded to roll out, cut out, and decorate hundreds of cookies. In this regard, it reminded me a lot of the American Christmas cookie tradition – many of the cookies were the type that you roll out and cut out with cookie cutters, and then decorate. So, a lot like our sugar cookies. Also, it’s definitely the type of thing that parents do with their children at the holidays, and thus is similarly important in many people’s family traditions. In fact, my girlfriends were all joking about how they better practice their Plätzchen baking skills for the day they have kids. However, this particular evening had the definite trademarks of a girls’ night (empty bottles of Prosecco and lots and lots of gossip) rather than the more family atmosphere.
Like American Christmas cookies, there are many many types of Plätzchen. The most common ones that can be found everywhere in Germany usually have an almond/butter flavor with scents of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, or even coconut and chocolate. Most Americans would probably associate gingerbread cookies with Germany, and they wouldn’t be wrong. After all, it was the German settlers who brought gingerbread men and gingerbread houses to America. Here, gingerbread is known as Lebkuchen, and is one of the most beloved and recognizable German Christmas treats. Lebkuchen is most common as a soft-form variation of gingerbread, traditionally associated with the city of Nürnberg, and is also one of my very favorite treats. It was a bit of a revelation, in fact, my first Nürnberger Lebkuchen. Now I look forward to their appearance every Advent. And that’s a tip if you’re coming to Germany during the holidays- Lebkuchen-Schmidt is the most famous (and original?) purveyor of Lebkuchen from Nürnberg, and they operate pop-up shops all over the country during the holiday season.
So now I have to confess to some failed intentions. If I was a diligent baker I would offer up a fantastic recipe here for Lebkuchen, or one of the other dozens of Plätzchen baked every year across Germany. But I can't. I haven't really perfected any of the recipes - I was more of a casual observer and an extra pair of hands this year. So I'll have to work hard to master some of those recipes for next year. And I believe that they really do take mastering, because an average Plätzchen is really just ... average. Not worth indulging in. But a good Plätzchen melts in your mouth and is so worth it.