Advent, Anja Dunk: We put the ultimate festival cookbook to the test

Ea lot of people continue about the protector of Turkey will arrive on December 25, but some of the best festive food this time of year is actually reserved for the big day.

Make a Yule diary, bake cookies and carnival decorations to hang on the tree, mix Christmas cakes or puddings – it is these quiet, thoughtful moments, packed with tradition, that build the warm, cozy, cinnamon-scented Christmas atmosphere. And arguably, no one has grasped this better than the Germans.

Dunk was born in Wales to a German mother and Welsh father


Now, food writer Anja Dunk, has put together an entire collection of festive German cakes in her new cookbook, Advent. We took some gluhwein and put three recipes to the test.

Tried by Prudence Wade: Lebkuchen’s heart is full of jam

As a lifelong gingerbread lover, I jumped at the chance to make these jam cookies – and I’m glad I did, because the faint smell of spice in the house alone is worth it.

The process is a bit more elaborate than your regular cookie – you have to thinly roll the dough, cut out a heart shape, dot the jam in the center, and top with a slightly larger heart. My efforts weren’t the most successful – as shown in the crumbs that spilled after baking – but it still tasted great.

Baking like a vegan is often a bit of a drag, but this is a definite win – possibly due to some of the ingredients that had to be changed, it’s just a split of butter for a dairy-free alternative and the use of syrup gold instead of honey. The cookies aren’t as soft or crumbly as shortbread or cookies (that’s because of the rye flour) – but taste more like gingerbread.

The recipe suggested a smooth, crisp jam, so I bought some damson jelly to eat in between, but honestly, I’m not sure I can tell which is strawberry or raspberry usually, common, normal. At best, cookies taste even better in the days after baking – good news, as I’m pretty sure I’ve made enough to feed a small army. They may not be the prettiest of cakes, but they definitely tick all the festive flavor boxes.

Lisa Salmon Tested: Christmas Spiced Shortbread, recipe here

The Christmas shortbread recipe calls for some ingredients that can be hard to find

If you have a food processor, making these cookies will be as easy as buying a pack and opening them – and a much tastier experience.

But if you’re like me and don’t have one, and if you can’t buy some (many) of the pre-ground ingredients, this recipe is quite time consuming!

I couldn’t find any hazelnuts, anise, or cloves, so I had to “grind” them myself, and with only a hand blender to help, it took a long time. And then, instead of just being able to do everything in one processor, butter was rubbed into the dough, and kneaded (apparently at a different age) so that the mixture came together and pliable.

But I got there in the end, made sure my small pieces of cookie dough were far enough on the baking sheet so they didn’t spread into each other in the oven, and was pleased with the end result.

Abi Jackon’s attempt turned out to be more scalding-scotti than biscotti, but the chocolate and ginger flavors were still there.

The icing sugar glaze on top is a really nice addition, and although there’s a lot of spice in the mix, the cookies are subtly spiced and taste pretty Christmassy. They are well worth making – but only if you have a food processor!

Tested by Abi Jackson: Chocolate and Ginger Cookies

I chose this recipe for two reasons. I love biscotti (and especially the sound of ginger and chocolate) and I imagine they would be relatively simple to make.

The first stage is certainly easy. All I need to do is weigh the flour, sugar, chopped almonds, and ginger candy (hopefully crystallized ginger counts as the same thing, since that’s all the supermarket has) and put it all in. In a mixing bowl, along with a pinch of sea salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, and some finely chopped dark chocolate, I broke it into pieces with my fingers. I stirred it all up before adding the three eggs and mixing it into a dough.

‘Advent’ is packed with a variety of festive German cakes


Next, I plan to scoop it into a lined tray and shape the log. However, my dough was sloppy, so my log immediately looked like it had been through a manger. I sprinkled the demerara sugar on top as directed then popped it in the oven, wondering if I’d end up with a biscotti pancake. The recipe says to bake for 25-30 minutes until golden, then let cool before cutting into cookie pieces and baking for another 25 minutes to crisp them up. I peeked halfway through and saw that my scratched log had extended to the edges of the baking tray. Eek!

Once removed, I let it cool for half an hour before slicing. Thankfully, they have a unique shape and my cookies really look promising. Go back to their oven. Then, engrossed in a Netflix movie, I take my eyes off the ball – and discover I’ve made a giant tray of scotti pops. Not impressed.

I try them anyway. They are definitely sharp! Although the edges are very scorched, there is still some ginger and some chocolate and sea salt which is great. I’ll definitely redo them (and keep a closer eye on temperature and timing!)

Recipes from Anja Dunk’s ‘ADVENT: German Pie Festival to Celebrate the Coming Christmas’ (published by Quadrille, £25; photography by Anja Dunk), available now. Advent, Anja Dunk: We put the ultimate festival cookbook to the test


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