These are my favorite Christmas cookies. A pretty bold statement, huh? Especially for something so humble as the simple spritz cookie. But to understand why these cookies are my favorite, I need to tell you about my grandma. Actually she is my Omi. (And for those Germans out there, I know very well that grandma in German is Oma, with an -a. I don't care. I have called her Omi since I was a child and I am not about to change now.)
At Christmas time, Omi is a cookie-baking, linzertorte-making machine.
Now that she is older, my Aunt also helps her out with the baking, and between the two of them they churn out hundreds and hundreds of these bite-sized cookies every year. You see, ever since I can remember, there has been a wicker basket at my grandma's house. It is about 3 feet high, maybe 1 1/2 feet in diameter, round, and it has a lid. It sort of reminds me of a medium-sized laundry hamper. Now, imagine how big this wicker basket/hamper is in comparison to a tiny spritz cookie. Stretch your imagination a bit more, and imagine this 3 foot tall basket filled with spritz cookies. No, there was no typo that sentence, my Omi does in fact make enough spritz cookies to fill the wicker basket each year. She is amazing and I love her for it. Especially since I might single-handedly consume a large portion of those cookies myself.
For me, her Spritzgebackenes is a sort of 'old-world' Christmas treat, because it doesn't have any bells and whistles, or any fancy ingredients we Americans like to use to gutsy up our cookies. The recipe lists ingredients in grams, because this is Omi's German recipe, and every good European knows measuring baking ingredients in volumes is rubbish.
The recipe uses a heavy hand with the butter, but the cookies are absolutely not greasy or rich tasting. They have bright undertones of lemon, and exactly the right amount of sweetness to make them perfect for serving to friends with coffee, or eating after dinner, or just snacking on a few between holiday meals. Actually, anytime is a good time to eat a spritz cookie.
The dough is incredibly easy to make, and with this recipe you should get just the right consistency for the cookie press. When I talked to my grandma recently about these cookies, I asked her to describe how you know when the dough is the perfect consistency to make the spritz. She struggled with words and eventually said, "You just know when it is right." This is a statement that only extremely experienced Omis are allowed to make. For the rest of us, I think the dough is ready when it comes together and holds its shape when you slice through it with a spatula.
To make these cookies, you definitely need a cookie press. My cookie press is from Wilton and it works great in my hands, and is a good price. There are also a few other cookie presses on Amazon that have good reviews, or if you head to your local Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams and Sonoma, etc., they will definitely stock them this time of the year. If you have never used a cookie press they are extremely easy to operate: Choose your design plate. Put the dough into the press. Screw on the bottom, and press out the cookies. Smile knowing you are a pro-cookie-maker. The end.
(Although I have to say, I find if I - press, wait for 2-3 seconds to let the dough fully come through the design plate, then lift the press off the sheet - this works best. Just a little trick.)
I also recently got some MIU silicone baking liners that I have had on my wishlist forever. These came highly recommended by Ms. Humble of Not So Humble Pie, and I am thrilled that I finally got them for this year's holiday baking.
Ok before I head out to enjoy more of these cookies, let me say a word about how to know when they are done. The cookies are small, delicate, and have a lot of butter, so they will go from 'almost done' to 'overbaked' in that moment when you say, "I am just going to give them an extra minute in the oven." Now don't think that you have to sit and watch these cookies like a hawk; even if they do get slightly overbrowned they don't really end up tasting burnt, they are just a bit more crispy. Ideally, what you are looking for is a slight browning around the edges of the cookie, and the bottoms should be evenly light to medium brown. As I suggest in the recipe below, test out a batch in your oven to determine what baking time works for you. Choose a variety of colored sprinkles to decorate the cookies, and switch out your design plates to make lots of different shapes.
If you are are searching for the perfect Christmas cookie for friends, co-workers, neighbors, or family, look no further. This cookie will feed them all, and you can probably do it with just one batch of this dough. Maybe you can even make it your new holiday tradition. You don't need to make hundreds of them like my Omi does, but if you do, rest easy knowing you are spreading some authentic Christmas cheer.
My Grandma's Spritz Cookies, or Spritzgebackenes
500 grams of flour (plus about 2 tbsp extra)
5 egg yolks or 3 eggs
the juice and grated rind of 1/2 lemon
250 grams of unsalted butter
250 grams of sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking liner. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy, and then add sugar, eggs, lemon juice and rind and continue beating. Gradually add the flour to the mix, and if it seems too sticky, add an additional 2 tbsp flour. When it is the right consistency, the dough will stick to your fingers a bit, but when you slice through it with a spatula it should hold its shape. Or, you can just put a bit into the press and test it, you can always beat in more flour if you need to.
To press out the cookies, fill a cookie press with the dough and press the cookies onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with a bit of colored sugar before baking. Bake cookies for about 8-9 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the time and temperature that worked for me in my oven, but I know my grandma bakes them for longer (12 minutes) at a higher temperature (390 degrees). I would suggest testing out a few cookies in your oven and see what works for you; check for doneness when the edges are lightly browned. The bottoms will be evenly light to medium brown. Cool the cookies completely on a cooling rack, and then store in an airtight container. They will keep for a long time, and make perfect holiday gifts for friends!