Although I grew up in South Africa where we celebrate a summery Christmas, baking traditional German Christmas cookies using an array of hearty spices was part and parcel of our “Adventszeit”, the time of “advent” which spans the entire month of December prior to Christmas Eve on the 24th.
So despite it being hot, the warming scents and smells of a concoction of spices infused our home growing up, and I have kept this tradition to this day in wintery New Jersey, although this year winter seems a little wanting in these parts of the US.
Yet spices provide so much more than just a cozy aroma.
Fascinating research done in the field of nutritional epigenetics shows that spices can influence a signaling molecule called Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NFkβ) that can activate genes that can promote tumor survival (angiogenesis), proliferation and invasion. It has even been shown to inhibit cancer cell death or apoptosis. (Bharti & Aggarwal 2002).
It makes sense then to want to somehow influence the expression of NFkβ.
One way is to stock your spice cupboard! Cinnamon, Cloves, Star Anise, Allspice, Ginger, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Coriander, White Pepper are all used extensively in my Christmas cookies.
And to top this I also adapted my traditional recipes and replaced the refined ingredients with more wholesome choices to balance blood sugar levels. It’s easy to do and does not compromise any yummy taste!
Instead of white flour, I use whole wheat pastry flour or spelt flour, and sometimes no flour at all but nut flours such as almond, hazelnut, walnut or pistachio flours. White sugar in the dough is substituted with turbinado or sucanat sugars, coconut palm sugar, maple syrup or honey.
I do compromise when it comes to decorating! But then a tiny dot or squiggle goes a long way, rather than covering the entire cookie in a sugar coating.
Here’s a favorite in our house! Permission to indulge is granted.
German “Gewürzspekulatius” (Spicy Spekulatius)
Makes enough to fill a 9” round cookie tin.
2 cups (500g) Spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon each of ground: nutmeg, cloves & ginger
1/8 teaspoon each of ground: cardamom and white pepper
1/8 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free)
1 1/3 cups or 20 tablespoons (300g) butter (organic, unsalted), cold, cut into pieces
½ cup turbinado / sucanat or coconut palm sugar
2 teaspoons lemon rind, organic!
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 egg whites, beaten
- Take about 1/3 cup of the flour and mix it with all the spices. Roast in a dry stainless steel skillet at medium heat until the kitchen is infused with a delicious aroma, about 4-5 minutes. Let cool. This is a crucial step and unfolds the full aroma of the spices.
- Mix spice-flour blend with the remaining flour and baking powder and place in large bowl. Add the cold butter, sugar, and lemon peel and mix with your hands until a crumbly dough forms. Beat eggs and add, knead into a smooth dough and place in fridge, covered, for an hour.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
- Roll out dough on floured surface to desired thickness, cut out cookie shapes and bake on a baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper for about 12-15 minutes.
- Cool on cookie racks.
- Decorate with icing mixture to your liking. I usually just swirl a little on top as I do not want the entire cookie to be covered in icing. They are also delicious without any icing.
- Store in a cookie tin with layers separated by parchment paper.