German Nut Bars (Nussecken)

I had a craving for a sweet something to go with my afternoon coffee for nearly a week now. Something home baked, not storebought, and not the summer appropriate cake or chocolate chip cookies or lemon shortbread either, but something involving nuts, brown sugar, a bit of spice, maybe some coffee and definitely vanilla.

I’m no stranger to baking what other people call “christmas cookies” in august, but that wasn’t really what I wanted. It took a long pantry tour and some haphazard browsing through a pile of my notebooks to finally find out what I wanted.

Nussecken (german nut bars shaped like triangles), just no the typical ones with that layer of apricot jam in between the dough and the nuts, but rather plain, with a hint of coffee and spices in the nut layer. Because nothing goes better with coffee than more coffee. If you’re here for the traditional ones, there are instructions at the very bottom of this post.

You need for a 30 x 40cm baking pan:

  • 200g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 500g flour

Mix everything until you have a bowlful of crumbs and spread them on a parchment lining your pan. Then press the crumbs flat with your hands to build the bottom layer. Don’t skimp on the parchment, even if you have a non-stick pan. It’s way easier to get things out of the pan later.

Now, we make the nut layer:

  • 150g butter
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp arabian coffee spice mix (contains cardamom, cinnamon, clove, allspice, vanilla)
  • 1 espresso (that’s about 3 Tbsp cold)
  • 200g grated hazelnuts
  • 100g grated almonds

Make the espresso and let it cool. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan and let it cool a bit before you mix in the nuts, almonds, spices and cold espresso. Leave the egg whites for last and mix them in until you have a sticky, glossy mix. Spread it onto the cookie layer as evenly as possible.

Bake the pan of goodness at 180°C / 350F for about 30-35 minutes. I don’t usually pre-heat the oven for this, so watch that they don’t burn.

Once it’s baked, see that you get the whole sheet out of the pan as quickly as possible without breaking it apart. That’s where the parchment comes in handy. I shove my pizza peel underneath it and get the whole batch out without a problem.

Cut the sheet into triangles or bars with a sharp, serrated knife while it’s still hot. You need to hurry a bit. Once the sugar sets, cutting gets incredibly messy.
Do yourself a favor and don’t cut the stuff in the pan. If your pan is non-stick, you’ll mess up the coating. If your pan is enamelled steel like mine, you’ll mess up your knife. If your pan is glass or ceramics, you can mess up both. Just… don’t.

Cutting it into 24 triangles gives you portions of a perfect handful, that’s about the size that’s sold in the bakeries here. But as I said, you can also cut bars or squares. And don’t forget a taste test while it’s still warm!

If you feel fancy, you can drizzle the Nussecken with a bit of chocolate. Here in Germany, the edges are dipped into chocolate all around, probably to keep them from crumbling all over the place.

If it’s not too humid in your corner of the world, the Nussecken keep in a cookie tin for 2 weeks without a problem. Otherwise you might want to keep them boxed up airtight so they don’t get mushy. They also freeze well. To thaw, just take them out of the freezer bag/container and let them come up to room temperature on a wire rack.

If you want to bake the traditional recipe:

  • make the cookie base as written
  • heat/melt about 1/4 cup of apricot jam (without chunks works best) and spread it thinly onto the unbaked cookie layer
  • exchange the espresso in the nut layer for water
  • exchange the brown sugar in the nut layer for white
  • leave out the arabian coffee spice mix
  • dip the sides in chocolate so they’re covered all around while top and bottom are still visible

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