When people deny themselves food for an extended period of time they’re usually ravenously hungry and find themselves thinking about consuming huge amounts of food. 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 and, for those who prefer something sweet, zimtsterne cookies.
The word zimtsterne translates as “cinnamon stars.” These star-shaped cut-out cookies are actually a German Christmas specialty. But for observant Jews, they 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 on this cookie. 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. They 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-the-Fast.
2-1/2 cups finely ground almonds, approximately (or almond meal, see below)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated fresh lemon peel
2 large egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. 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 increasing 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) mixture and stir to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least one 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 two cups; add more as needed to create dough that isn’t overly sticky.
Makes about 15 large cookies.