Always a sucker for chocolate, Brunsli are my favourite Christmas cookies. Along with Mailänderli and Zimtstern, they make up the trifecta of Swiss Christmas baking. Like the other two, they keep incredibly well, can be made in advance, and are enjoyed throughout the Christmas season.
Typically known as Basler Brunsli, they are forever associated with the city of Basel and were initially baked there not only at Christmas, but also for weddings and other special occasions. According to the Kulinarische Erbe, the first known recipe for Brunsli was published in 1750 in a cookbook called Das süsse Basel.
There is no one standard Brunsli recipe. Historically, the most luxurious and expensive part of the cookie was the ground nuts. It was only during lean times that the nuts were replaced with flour. There is debate over which nuts to use, whether almonds, hazelnuts, or even walnuts. Some recipes call for grated or melted chocolate, while others depend on cocoa (and some use both). Finally, some recipes suggest the cookies are baked low in the oven and some forego baking completely and just leave them out to dry.
I am using my mum's recipe, which produces a chocolately cookie that normally stays chewy and soft up to Christmas. You can use up any extra egg whites from your Mailänderli to make the dough. And it's gluten free!
200 g ground nuts
200 g sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
100 g dark chocolate, grated
100 g cocoa powder
3 egg whites
In a large bowl add nuts, sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt. Mix well.
Beat the whites to soft peaks, then fold in the dry ingredients and shot of kirsch.
Divide the dough into 3 discs, and wrap well with plastic. Cool in the fridge for at least an hour and up to a day.
When you are ready to roll:
Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F / gas mark 4
Roll out the dough (using granulated sugar) to be about a centimetre (about half an inch) thick, then cut them out into any shape. Bears are recommended.
Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes.
I normally use ground almonds, but hazelnuts, or a mix of the two, would also work well.
I've made these cookies a bit thinner than usual, as the cookie cutter is so large. With a smaller cutter, you could roll it out a bit thicker.
These cookies will keep for a couple of weeks before they start to dry out. Store them alone in their own container and not with other cookies.