By RONNIE FEIN
(The Nosher via JTA) – When people deny themselves food for an extended period of time, they’re usually ravenously hungry and find themselves thinking about consuming huge amounts. But it’s not a good idea to pack it in too quickly; it’s too hard on your digestive system.
So when Yom Kippur comes to a close, I make it easier for my family and friends and follow the ages-old wisdom of transitioning from the fast to the main meal by offering my guests a light nibble as they come into my home after synagogue. I serve sliced apples and honey, hummus and pita wedges. For those who prefer something sweet, I have zimtsterne cookies.
The word “zimtsterne” translates as “cinnamon stars.” These star-shaped cutouts are actually a German Christmas specialty. But for observant Jews, the cookies are also traditional for Yom Kippur, when they are known as “erste sternen,” or “first stars,” because they are a reminder that before you can break the fast, you must be able to see the first evening stars that appear in the sky after sundown.
There are endless variations. I make one version with flour and honey, more like a traditional gingerbread cookie. But the more popular recipes are basically warmly spiced nut-meringues with meringue frosting. The meringue type cookies are compellingly crispy at first bite, then ever-so-slightly chewy; the cinnamon-clove fragrance is spellbinding. And here’s the bonus — they are gluten free.
You can make these cookies as much as a week ahead. Keep them tightly sealed so they’ll stay crispy. If you haven’t ever tasted zimtsterne, consider adding them to your holiday menu. They also make a delightful gift to bring if you’re invited to a break-fast.
2 1/2 cups finely ground almonds, approximately (or almond meal, see below)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Place the almonds, cinnamon, cloves, salt and lemon peel in a bowl, whisk to blend the ingredients and set aside.
Beat the egg whites in an electric mixer starting at low, then increase the speed to medium-high for 1-2 minutes, or until bubbly. Pour in the lemon juice and beat at medium-high for another 2 minutes or until soft peaks form. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat at high speed for 4-5 minutes or until stiff and glossy.
Remove about 1/3 of this mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Add the almond mixture to the remaining 2/3 of the mixture and stir to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Remove the dough. If it is still soft and sticky, work in some additional ground almonds. Sprinkle a pastry board with some granulated sugar. Place the dough on the board and top the dough with some parchment paper or waxed paper. Roll or press the almond dough to a 1/4-inch thickness.
Cut the dough with star-shape cookie cutters. Place the cookies on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spread the remaining 1/3 egg white mixture on top of the dough. (You can use a small spoon or a pastry brush.) Bake for about 12-15 minutes.
Note: if you use pre-packaged almond “meal,” start with 2 cups; add more as needed to create dough that isn’t overly sticky.
Makes about 15 large cookies.
Ronnie Fein is a freelance food and lifestyle writer and author of four cookbooks. The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.