Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Christmas Biscuits

What does almost every Swiss housewife bake at Christmas? I was surprised when I found out. Being originally English I grew up in a world of Christmas Puddings, Christmas Cake and Mince pies at Christmas. When I arrived in Switzerland and got married and had a sort of Swiss family around me I found that Swiss housewives do something completely different at Christmas. They bake biscuits, but not just any old biscuits, they are almost works of art.

The pastries are made according to the end result. The final pastry is rolled out and various shapes and sizes are cut with the cutting stencils. There are various sorts of pastries and flavours. I found out that every Swiss housewife has her own favourite recipes and a baking marathon begins around the beginning of December. Not wanting to be left out, I do my own thing as well, almost every year. You can of course buy the biscuits, but let's face it, it is not the same thing. I decided to do my duty last week and each day I made a different sort, at the week-end even two sorts. So let us begin.

Biscuits, Christmas 2008

Original Size

The white biscuits with the Christmas scene are flavoured with aniseed and made with flour, sugar and eggs and a spoon of kirsch. They can become quite hard especially if they are kept open on a plate. The forms for making them are carved in wood and are often a source of losing patience when making them as the pastry tends to stick to the form. After the biscuits are finished they are left to dry for a complete night. The next day they are baked in a hot oven for about five minutes to finish them off.

The ones with the chocolate on them are sables. Getting the pastry to stick together can be a bit difficult as they are made from just butter, flour, sugar and a little bit of milk. However if you form them into a roll and put them in the deep freeze for about 30 minutes you can easily cut them in biscuit sizes. I melted a block of dark chocolate and coated them with it.

The moon shaped ones are made from a pastry composed of ground almonds (which I grind myself without the skin) and lemon juice and grated lemon zest. You have to leave them for at least five hours to dry out in the air when formed and then bake them a few minutes in the oven to dry them out completely. Then I put icing on them and dip them in roasted almonds.

The hearts are orange hearts. Made from butter, egg yoke and orange juice and coated with an icing also made with orange juice and some grated orange zest. That is one of our favourites.

The star and christmas tree shaped ones are known as "Mailanderli". "Mailand" is the German word for the Italian town of Milan, but what these biscuits have to do with the town I do not know. Made from butter, sugar and eggs you can bake them just as they are. I coat some of them in icing with Kirsch flavour and make them a bit colourful.

What I also make are cinnamon stars, but unfortunately you cannot see any on the picture. The pastry is a mixture of ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar and is rolled out on sugar. A very messy business, but after twenty years of practice I can more or less do it without swearing as much as I used to. The stars are coated with icing made of beaten egg white and icing sugar. Star shapes are cut out left to dry for about five hours. Afterwards they are baked for about five minutes.

The shiny ones are spicy biscuits flavoured with cinnamon and clove powder and put in the deep freezer for half an hour. Afterwards they are cut into biscuits and baked. I then make a caramel out of burnt sugar and water and paint them with it.

I had a few egg whites left over from the baking so I whisked them up, flavoured with lemon zest and backed them in the oven. They are the small yellow meringues on the plate.

At the moment each sort is packed in a metal tin, lined with aluminium foil and with a tight fitting lid. This means I have about eight tins of biscuits in the bedroom on the floor as I had no room elsewhere at home.

I am now glad I have got the whole process behind me. When the kids were small it was more fun and they all had their favourite biscuits. I do it today more out of tradition - the kids are now grown up but enjoy them all the same. It is often custom in Switzerland to perhaps put a mixture in a special bag and give them to neighbours etc. I found over the years it is one big exchange and let's show everyone what we did this year. I appreciate it very much, but my neighbours bring me a selection of theirs and I bring the neighbours a selection of mine. I brought a selection into the office this week and they were very much appreciated, me being the only part time housewife in the office.

So that is a little bit of Swiss tradition at Christmas and now I have it over for a year. I will be retired at the end of February, so it looks like I will have a lot of time for my baking in the next years.

1 comment:

  1. hi i am an australian swiss, and want to make some of these traditional biscuits but am finding it hard to find reciepes?

    any tips?