Soft Gingerbread Cookies & Butterplätzchen (German Butter Cookies)

It’s nearly Christmas! My favorite holiday of the year!!!
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is to bake Christmas cookies or baked goods. Our family also always gets a Christmas cake on Christmas Eve. We have too many Christmas related snacks and baked goods due to our recent trip from Germany including various stollen, lebkuchen, daily Lindt chocolates from our advent calendar, even more chocolates, and even more different German Christmas cookies! I don’t think I’ve eaten so much chocolate in my life especially on a daily basis thanks to the advent calendar! We also really didn’t need to bake cookies this year since we already have so many sweets to eat but I thought it would be nice to bake with Chai this year and continue what’s become a family tradition to me.

My favorite Christmas cookies to bake are Gingerbread cookies! I love this recipe because it’s not too sweet and the cookies are nice and soft! Chai chose Butterplätzchen for us to bake which turned out pretty yummy especially when it was still a little warm from the oven!

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We were working out at home doing Insanity while waiting for the Butterplätzchen dough and Chai made a comment that most Germans would be watching a movie or relaxing instead of working out while making Christmas cookies. I thought that was pretty funny and he may have a point but I need my daily exercise especially when I’m eating all these sweets and delicious foods! 😉 We ended up watching a movie later that night. It’s another Christmas tradition to watch a lot of movies together! 😊

What is your favorite sweets to make during Christmas? Do you also have Christmas traditions with family? I’d love to hear your comments below~

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Soft Gingerbread Cookies Recipe

Yield: 13 large gingerbread man cookies
Time: 2 hours 25 minutes (including 2 hours of letting dough stand)

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 TBSP ground ginger

Directions

  1. In a mixer, beat brown sugar, egg, and butter together on a low-medium speed until well blended.
  2. Add molasses and vanilla and mix until well blended.
  3. Gradually stir in dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, ginger) and mix on low until a nice smooth dough forms.
  4. Divide the dough into two and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough stand for 2 hours at room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F with racks in the middle.
  6. Lay enough parchment paper to cover the baking tray.
  7. Place a dough on a flour-dusted surface and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough evenly to about ¼ inches thick.
  8. Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out pieces and carefully place them on the baking tray with at least 1-inch space apart from each other.
  9. Form, roll out the dough, and cut pieces again until there is not enough dough left. Repeat the process with the second dough.
  10. Bake in the oven for 7 minutes and let the cookies cool before enjoying or decorating them!

 

Butterplätzchen (German Butter Cookies) Recipe

Yield: 8+ large cookies depending on the size
Time: 1 hr 25 min (including 1 hour of letting dough stand)

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ cup cold butter, cut into pieces

Ingredients for Decorations

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 TBSP milk
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Sprinkles or Decorating gems (optional)

 

Directions

  1. Mix the flour, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, and butter on medium speed until you get a crumbly mix.
  2. Use your hands to combine the mixture into a smooth dough.
  3. Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and let it stand for 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. Preheat the oven to 355°F with racks in the middle.
  5. Lay enough parchment paper to cover the baking tray.
  6. Place the dough on a flour-dusted surface and roll out the dough evenly to a 4 mm thickness.
  7. Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out pieces and carefully place them on the baking tray with some space between each cookie. You can also choose to make simple round cookies without any cookie cutters.
  8. For decoration: whisk the egg yolk and milk. Brush thinly onto the cookies and then decorate the cookies with sprinkles and/or turbinado sugar.
  9. Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden. Let the cookies cool a little before enjoying them!

 

Berlin & Dresden Christmas Markets

It’s already December!
It’s amazing how fast time flies by! There’s still a lot of exciting things happening in December before we welcome the start of the new year!

I wasn’t able to upload a post last weekend because I was away in Germany visiting Berlin and Dresden with Chai and Teddy. It was my first time visiting Germany around this season and I was super excited to see the famous German Christmas Markets!!! I did so much research about the markets in Berlin and Dresden and what food I wanted to try and bring back home. The majority of the souvenirs we bring back these days are food related. We brought back a nice WMF spätzle maker so we can now make authentic Käse (cheese) Spätzle which is my favorite German dish! There are two types of Spätzle makers but we chose the type that makes the shorter ones because it is Chai’s favorite, the device is a lot lighter, and less complicated (aka easier to clean.) It looks like this.

I did not visit as many Christmas markets in Berlin as I originally planned but the main Christmas market in Dresden made up for that! All the food that we tried in the Berlin Christmas markets was so disappointing. We tried a Bratwurst, Glühwein (mulled wine) for children (aka non-alcoholic), candied almonds, Baumstriezel (chimney cake), and Schneeball (a type of fried dough covered in chocolate with different flavors) in the Berlin Christmas Markets. I’ve had tastier food at the Spring Festival and Summer Tollwood Festival in Munich.

Another big reason why German Christmas Markets were a huge disappointment for us and we did not eat as much as we would have liked was because of the seriously unsanitary conditions these vendors were selling their food. The vendors would touch money and then touch the dough or whatever food they were preparing right away without wearing any gloves. I’ve seen vendors cough all over the food and eat their own food they were selling with their bare hands. I didn’t see a single person use hand sanitizer or wash their hands. It was a huge turnoff and we tried to keep eating at the markets to a minimum to avoid getting sick. I strongly recommend going to a stand that has a large enough team where there are designated food handlers and one person who only handles money. The only clean vendor I saw that had such a team was selling Handbrot (a delicious freshly made bread with cheese & Champagne mushrooms or ham inside topped with sour cream and chives) at the Dresdner Striezelmarkt.

I highly recommend the Dresdner Striezelmarkt over any Christmas Markets in Berlin if you are in the area. Dresden is about a 2 hour train ride away from Berlin. In any Christmas market, if you purchase a drink you can either keep the cup or return it to receive some euros back. The cups can make a good souvenir if you like the design. All markets sell knickknacks that are a bit overpriced and sold in multiple stands. If you really like something, I recommend trying to find the best price first before making your purchase.

Christmas is an amazing time for food and baked goods!
Chai grew up in Germany and really missed Stollen and Lebkuchen (German Christmas cookies full of warm spice.) We bought Dresdner Stollen and Nuremberg Lebkuchen from Kadewe. Chai mentioned that the Lebkuchen from Kadewe was more delicious and pricey than from the supermarket. Chai also bought me a Lindt Advent Calendar! I never knew about Advent Calendars in the US but apparently they’re big in Europe. This was my first time receiving an Advent Calendar and it’s really a simple yet fun treat to have. We look forward to opening a “window” of the Advent Calendar each day~ Some other food related souvenirs from Germany I recommend are: Speculaas (Christmas biscuits), various types of Stollen, various Ferrero chocolate, Leibniz crackers, candied and chocolate covered nuts, various gummies including vegan, pure European honey, Italian balsamic vinegar and/or olive oil, Händlmaier Bavarian sweet mustard, and European jam.

IMG_6812Christmas decoration inside Kadewe.

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Realistic looking potatoes made out of marzipan. Germans love their potatoes!

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A Korean monument in the middle of Berlin.

IMG_6958A part of the Berlin wall that had some Korean tribute to it.

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One of the smaller Dresden Christmas markets.

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This is what Handbrot looks like although we didn’t get it from this stand.

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Dresdner Frauenkirche.

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Inside the beautiful church.

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IMG_7063An amusing wooden piece from a souvenir shop.

IMG_6835Teddy joined us on this trip! We took her to many of the dog-friendly restaurants in Berlin.

IMG_6899Teddy received some water from Ottenthal.

IMG_6851Teddy tired from her trip and relaxing in the hotel.

IMG_6856She buried her face in my arm to shade herself from the sunlight.

Reviews and Ratings of Christmas Markets

Dresden

Dresden Striezelmarkt (4/5): Located in a beautiful city with wonderfully and uniquely decorated stands. Dresden is most well known for their Stollen (fruit bread.) We tried Handbrot as previously mentioned and white chocolate drink which was wonderfully warm and delicious to drink in the freezing weather.

IMG_7061Dresdner Striezelmarkt at night.

IMG_7030Ferris wheel and some market stands.

IMG_7032One of the many uniquely decorated stands.

IMG_7020German Christmas Pyramid.

IMG_7027Christmas decorations.

IMG_7034White hot chocolate drink.

IMG_7033The ovens at the Handbrot stand.

Berlin

Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt (3/5?): Chai visited this market on his own and he claimed that it was very similar to the market in Alexanderplatz but more scenic. It costs 1 Euro per person to enter after 2 PM.

Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Alexanderplatz (2/5): The food here was not tasty and most vendors we saw were pretty unsanitary. I think it’s an okay market to visit if it’s your first time but I would recommend the Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt more if you want a nicer scenery.

Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz (1/5): A small market with a small tube riding as its main feature.

 

Reviews and Ratings of Restaurants

Berlin

Ottenthal (5/5):  Although I love trying new restaurants, this is our favorite restaurant to visit whenever we are in Berlin. It’s an Austrian restaurant with the best Käsespätzle and Schnitzel I’ve ever tried. I also highly recommend their Apfelstrudel for dessert. The restaurant provides great quality food with good service.

IMG_6896I always order Käsespätzle from Ottenthal.

IMG_6907Plumb dumplings for dessert.

Kadewe Café Black Forest (4/5): This coffee shop is one of the two coffee shops on one of the top floors in Kadewe which is a luxury department store. I recommend this café over the one next to it as the coffee quality is higher. It’s one of the best coffees I’ve had in Germany. I always make multiple visits every time I am in Berlin.

Taverna Ouisa (4/5): A large Greek restaurant with delicious moussaka. The waiters were friendly and nice which was a surprising change from the usual German service.

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Café Einstein Stammhaus (4/5): This restaurant is not really a café but more a restaurant. Chai and I visited here twice for breakfast. We both enjoyed the omelet with cheese on bread and the cappuccinos. I believe they also sell lunch and dinner which we haven’t tried yet.

IMG_6836Omelette with cheese on bread and Apfelstrudel.

IMG_6935Tasty cappuccino.

Benedict (3/5): This place is attached to a hotel and sells breakfast 24 hours. We also visited here twice for breakfast. It’s popular with both locals and tourists. I recommend coming here before 9:30 AM during the weekday if you don’t want to be waitlisted. Most breakfast dishes come with a warm beverage or mimosa. I highly recommend the avocado and egg on a bagel.

IMG_6949Avocado and egg on a bagel.

Standard Pizza (3/5): This is an Austrian owned Italian pizza place. The pizza was baked in a stone oven by two Italian gentlemen. It’s a decent place to grab lunch but not the best pizza I’ve ever tried.

IMG_6858Spicy pizza from Standard.

Zeit fur Brot (3/5): A bakery that bakes their own fresh bread and has one of the best cinnamon buns I’ve ever had. They offer various of flavors including cherry! The bun was light, fluffy, and delicious.

Backermann (3/5): We visited this place on our last day because it opened early enough and was somewhat close by to our hotel. The bakery bakes their own bread but the service was lacking.

Coure Di Vetro (3/5): I recommend this place if you’re in the area and looking for gelato! I tried the pistachio but the White Duke was more tasty. It’s freshly made on site and cash only.

Bocca Di Bacco (2/5): I was very much looking forward to this Italian restaurant. The food was good, restaurant in a nice area, and there were even ambassadors visiting the same night. However, the service was unexpectedly lacking. Maybe I would give it another chance in the future but not any time soon.

IMG_6978Sea Bream with vegetables.

Bakery Backwerk (2/5): An average and common bakery chain. I questioned whether the baked goods were freshly prepared on site or arrived frozen and just heated in the oven.

Caras (2/5): We tried the cappuccino here and were not impressed at all.

 

Dresden

Kastenmeirs (3/5): A famous seafood restaurant with lots of space. I tried the lobster and leek soup which was too salty for my taste. I recommend the fish risotto.

IMG_7055Compliments from the chef.

IMG_7056Lobster and leek soup.

Dresdener Kaffeestubchen (3/5): A very small café that is well known for its Eierschecke cake. I recommend trying the cake but the cappuccino was really not good so avoid the drinks.

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Eierschecke cake.

IMG_7001The Lion King soundtrack collection in the cafe.

IMG_6991The Titanic collection in the cafe.

Lemon Madeleines

Madeleines are delicious French mini cakes in the shape of seashells. They’re delectable and go perfectly well with your coffee or tea! I’ve been making these madeleines since I was in college and they’re always a hit at parties and potluck. My first madeleine mold was a petite/mini size so it took a lot of hard work and time to use up all the batter. They were pretty and cute but it was really inefficient with one mold. Thankfully, I’ve bought a full-size madeleine mold since then and now can mix up my sizes of madeleine cakes! You can purchase the petite madeleine molds here and the full-size madeleine molds here.

I especially love these madeleines as they have a hint of lemon from the lemon zest. I used my Microplane Premium Zester Grater which I highly recommend as it finely grates lemon, cheese, spices and more! I especially use it to grate cheese and lemon and the end result is always fluffy, light, and delicate. I really enjoy baking these madeleines since they made my house smell like a divine French pastry shop! My family really enjoyed these madeleines and I hope you will love them as well! Happy baking!

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On a side note, sweet Chai brought these home for me from work. These are one of my favorite gummies from Germany but in a mini package full of mini sized gummies! How adorable is this? I had a lot of fun admiring how tiny they were before eating them! I usually buy a pack every time I visit Germany but you can also buy the imported regular sized gummies on amazon.

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IMG_1100Look how tiny!

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Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar or sugar in the raw
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour; need extra flour to dust molds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 8 TBSP of unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • Zest of one lemon

 

Yield: 28 large madeleines
Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

Instructions

  1. Spray the madeleine mold with cooking oil. Dust the mold with extra flour and shake off the excess. Place the mold in the freezer. This is an important step to prevent the madeleines from browning too much.
  2. Whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thick.
  3. Fold the flour and baking powder into the wet mixture a large spoonful at a time.
  4. Drizzle the melted butter very slowly into the batter while folding at the same time. Try not to add too much butter at once and take a break in between the butter additions to fold the batter and completely incorporate the butter.
  5. Add the lemon zest and gently fold.
  6. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.
  7. Preheat the oven to 425°F with racks placed in the middle of the oven.
  8. Spoon batter into the middle of the madeleine mold so that it fills up ¾ of each individual cake mold. Do not spread it.
  9. If using a large madeleine mold, bake for 8 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
    If using a petite/mini madeleine mold, bake for 5 minutes.
  10. Take all the madeleines out to a cooling rack immediately after baking. Let them cool completely before dusting them with powdered sugar which is optional. Enjoy!