German Holiday Cookies at the Black Forest Inn
Come Yuletide, it is our duty to produce cookies, be they gingerbread, spritz, or rugelach. The main thing is that they’re homemade; bonus points if they’re delicious and / or they’ve got a good origin story.
Should you find yourself unwilling or unable to produce the numbers of cookies required by social convention, there are any number of reputable bakeries or grocery stores ready to step in for you. Unfortunately, their products are largely loveless, and, pardon the expression, cookie cutter — one commercial bakery’s product is interchangeable with another’s, and few if any would fool anyone into thinking they were homemade.
Thus the appeal of the cookies at the Black Forest Inn. Though baked commercially, they have a restrained and sophisticated European flavor sensibility and believably natural appearance that give the appearance of being homemade, albeit by a baker who knows his or her business.
The Black Forest Inn sent us a Mixed Dozen Plus ($15) of their cookies for review, which includes each of eight sorts of Christmas cookies plus one piece of decorative marzipan.
WOULD NOT EAT AGAIN
Marzipan: There are few Play-Doh-like sculpting mediums as visually charming as marzipan, which can be used to create small, cartoonishly colored reproductions of simple, geometric fruits. Someday, someone will invent edible marzipan. Until then, leave it unmolested on the plate.
While the Black Forest version has much less of the sawdust flavor that generally renders marzipan so unpleasant, it’s so richly flavored and dense that one or two bites is enough to send the eater reeling off in search of a glass of water.
GREAT WITH TEA
Russian Tea Cakes and Pfeffernuss: These dour little lumps are dry and crispy, the tea cakes with a nutty, powdered sugary sweetness, and the pfeffernuss with a bit of peppery bite. Neither is brilliant straight up, but taken with a tea or coffee, they shine — they’re a perfect complement to a hot beverage, which renders them more tender and flavorful.
Black and White Spritz: It’s hard to get over how little this thing resembles the spritz of my childhood (which I still turn out by the dozens each Christmas season.) It’s much larger, its appearance strangely apes the otherwise completely dissimilar black and white cookies of New York City, and it lacks the sprinkles and other toppings that made my childhood spritz what they were. Still: They’re buttery, and the chocolate half packs a nice, understated cocoa kick. A fine match for a cup of tea.
Springerle: These white, embossed, anise-kissed cookies are just as pretty as marzipan, but can be dipped in a hot beverage and rendered subtly delicious.
Ginger Thins: Crunchy and a bit austere — these aren’t the thick, frosted gingerbread we grew up with. They’re tasty nonetheless.
Linzer: This raspberry bar with a buttery crust is fat and thick, like a slice of raspberry pie. It’s mellow and very fruit forward, with the crunch of real raspberries.
Sugar Cookies: Soft with a bit of crunch and a very buttery flavor, these are both one-dimensional and delightful, thanks to the sprinkles and icing that cover them.
Lebkuchen: If you’re not in the mood for the mixed dozen experience, a dozen lebkuchen are the way to go. This diamond-shaped spice and honey cake has a magical and transportive flavor that suggests pumpkin pie and evokes the spirit of the holidays in a single bite. Equally good straight up or with a cup of coffee or tea, this Nuremberg specialty is clearly Black Forest’s ace in the hole.
Black Forest Inn, 1 E 26th St, Minneapolis. MN 55404. Order cookies by phone: 612.872.0812.
James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).