I like Christmas. I’m writing this blog in our living room, the Christmas tree glittering next to me while a little red train drives in an endless loop through a maze of presents. Our Christmas is mostly American — we buy and decorate the tree in early December, drink boozy egg nog after dinner all month, and open presents on Christmas morning, accompanied by pancakes and a burning yule log on TV. (I do not, however, like it enough to listen to Christmas music. I’m presently listening to “Let It Go” in German, for probably the 15th time today.) It all feels very seasonal.
We’ve spent Christmas, or pre-Christmas, in Austria four or five times. Christmas itself was, from the perspective of an American used to the fun of Christmas morning, a bit of a letdown. Everything happens on Christmas Eve. Literally, everything. Buying and decorating the tree, singing Christmas songs, Christmas dinner, opening the presents, all of it. On Christmas you just kind of… sit around? But Austrian pre-Christmas is magical. Starting at the end of November, they have Christmas markets, hot spiced wine, terrifying pre-Christian Alpine creatures called Perchten marauding through the streets and frightening children, and “Weihnachtsbäckerei” or Christmas baking. Which means COOKIES. My Austrian cookbook points out that “the Weihnachtsbäckerei is older than the Christmas tree” and includes no fewer than 30 different recipes for cookies and other Christmas sweets. And my mother-in-law’s recipe book has 11, eight of which aren’t even mentioned in Die Gute Kuche.
The first time I visited Austria in December I remember being overwhelmed by a giant platter of Christmas cookies that sat on the dining room table for our entire two-week visit and seemed to magically replenish itself. This year I decided to bring a little bit of Austrian Christmas to our house, and learn to make my three favorite Christmas cookies: Vanillekipferl, Linzer Augen, and Rumkugeln. It must be stated that I am not a baker. I’m not sure that I’ve ever successfully made any cookies at all, prior to beginning this blog post. Which is to say that, as with almost everything I cook, these might be a bit time consuming, but they’re not exactly difficult.
The recipes below are based on five separate batches of each cookie that I made in early December, with some slight tweaks to the original recipes which may be necessary because American and Austrian ingredients are not exactly identical. (See this aside about flour that is so long and boring that I had to take it out of the cookies post.)