You’d be amazed how many holiday traditions come to us from Germany. It’s a list that includes mulled wine, Christmas markets, advent calendars, and every fathomable arrangement of holly and mistletoe.
It also includes adventsplätzchen, something you probably know better as, well, cookies—butter drops, almond crescents, gingerbread and the like served on colorful plates and trays.
Alas, if you were aiming to bake like the Germans do this holiday season, you would've already had to start the process. German baking is a challenge, after all. The recipes can take months. They depend on a delicate balance of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, allspice, and anise. There are myriad steps, too—some requiring the utmost patience, others the utmost precision. The smallest mistake can leave you with a bad batch; one that will bring dishonor not just on you, but also on your family.
Better leave it to the experts, then. In Cincinnati, that means Servatii Pastry Shop, whose German roots have them baking everything from springerle to gingerbread without a hitch.
In many ways, gingerbread is the most German cookie of all. They have a months-long ripening time, during which the batter develops its characteristic texture and spicy flavors. Servatii tops theirs with buttercream icing in seasonal designs—pilgrims and turkeys for Thanksgiving, snowmen, sleighs, houses, and Santa Claus (ahem, Sinterklaas) for Christmas. They make pfeffernüsse, too—a smaller spiced cookie that’s great to have around the house for the holidays.
You might’ve assumed these were Russian tea cookies. They aren’t. In fact, almond crescents (kipfel)are the pride of Munich and Vienna.
The recipe is simple enough. You make shortbread with almonds, form them into crescents, bake them, then coat each in a thick layer of powdered sugar. Less simple is not eating an entire batch in one sitting. But if you do, rest easy in knowing Servatii is only a short drive away, and their kipfel are as well stocked as they are delicious.
These anise-flavored treats are similar to biscotti, though the texture is more meringue-like. What makes springerle so interesting is their prints. Each cookie is pressed with an image using a special rolling pin. Originally, the images served as ecclesiastical advertising, though artistic designs and folklore scenes were popular as well. Nowadays, Servatii graces their springerle with animals, ships, and the like.
BEST OF THE REST
Servatii carries an assortment of other holiday treats as well. Who can forget their iced and decorated holiday cookies? Or their checkerboard shortbreads? Or their fruit-shaped marzipan? Or their chocolate-covered almond macaroons?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They also have fruit cake, Christmas tree coffeecake, Christmas tree brownies, yule logs, egg nog tortes, and stollen.
Stollen, if you didn’t know, is a dense, sweet cake filled with fruits and nuts. It’s unusual in that it’s baked with yeast, which puts it somewhere between a cake and a bread, but the texture that results is incomparable even months after baking.
Like seemingly every German baking recipe, stollen is a challenge to get right. Thankfully, Servatii has our back here as well. Their almond stollen is a masterpiece. You won’t have to destroy your kitchen to taste it either—they bake ‘em fresh every day.
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Servatii Pastry Shop has 12 locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.