Having left the country of my birth – Switzerland – at the young age of 19, most of the traditions that I crave are traditions of my childhood. Sadly though, many of these can't be replicated here in Canada. Mostly due to the fact that you need crowds of people celebrating together – the Swiss are not culturally inclined to congregate in groups outside of Switzerland though, so I am missing out on much.
Some of the festivals that I really loved where the National Day celebrations on August 1st – big bonfires, rockets, crackers, sausages over the open fire (veggie sausages i.e. Quorn sausages would do quite well for that too). I also love Advent celebrations. Ah.. the memory of the smell beeswax candle dipping that was open to the public during late November and early December still brings a smile to my face. Somehow though, Advent is just not activily celebrated here. I am also in my most busy Olive Sparrow time during the fall and Advent, so mostly I also lack the time to fully immerse myself into the quiet time of preparing for the bit day.
The one tradition that I insist on honing here is to "Guetzle" (this comes from the word "Guetzli" – which is swiss-german for cookie) – so "Guetzle" is specifically used in Advent when one is baking a myriad of different Christmas cookies. My hips don't need a lot of cookies to keep their svelete shape, our family is small, I work by myself – yet "Guetzli" baking I want to do. I usually make upwards of 15 + different types.
About 5 years ago, my husband and I started to give my home-made cookies to his clients as a small gesture of thank you. We also gift neighbours, friends, my galleries that are in town, a few of the people in the public housing complex in our neighbourhood and often a spontaneous selection of people dropping by our house over the holidays.
This year I made 50 baggies of cookies, each weighin about 1/2 lb. So this years output was around 25 lbs. Plus about 2 lb for us to have at hand for guests staying here.
Many of the recipes I use are very old, traditional swiss cookies, combined with a few new ones I just like trying out. I also make some chocolate truffels every year, this time around I gave white chocolate ones a go – they are okay, but I don't think I will attempt them again for a while because the chocolate didn't firm up properly and I had to improvise with additions of cashews – they taste okay, but are not what I had in mind.
Another favourite is the Basler Läckerli – a ginger-bread-type with lots of dried fruit and candied peels – this year I added some of the sour cherries from our tree and I love the bit of tartness amongst all the honey sweetness. Nidelzältli are my sons favourite – cream, sugar and a bit of vanilla – essentially a soft granular fudge. There are also Brunsli – chocolate and almonds with eggwhites, rolled in sugar when rolling out – yummy… Chräbeli are my best friends grandmothers recipe – a traditional Anis cookie and the same dough that is used for Springerle (which I make with a lovely angel mold). Nusspraline – walnuts, coffee and icing sugar, not baked, but left to dry, then glaced with more coffee and icing sugar.
The essential Swiss Christmas cookie is the "Mailänderli" (Milano cookie) – a shortbread cookie with an egg-wash
Here is the recipe from my mothers home economics cookbook from 1948:
500 gram all-purpose flour (but you can also put part spelt or whole wheat in it)
250 gram sugar
250 gram butter
3 eggs (+ 1 egg yolk)
finely grated peel of 1 organic lemon
Put flour, butter, sugar, eggs and the lemon peel into a large bowl and knead well, but not too long (so that not too much gluten develops).
Put dough into fridge for a few hours or overnight
roll out on a little bit of white flour
use your favourite cookie cutters to cut out shapes
transfer shapes to baking sheet (I always use parchement paper, not buttered)
brush egg-yolk onto each cookie
bake at 350 fahrenheit for about 12 – 15 minutes until the egg yolk has gone a beautiful colour.
Let cool and enjoy!
I love cutting out tiny cookies, so that each one is one bite. Takes a bit more time, but looks so pretty. As children, this was our standard cookie that we could help with. (the dough also tastes amazing – my son says so as well.)
On that note, I am now going to work on a few more dolls that have to be finished in time for Saturday.