A few years ago, we spent Christmas in Switzerland with my dad’s side of the family. He is from Switzerland and we still have several older aunts, uncles and cousins there. This was my first trip to Switzerland in the winter and I was amazed to see how civilized the Swiss make winter. (This is also true for hiking, the joke is that Swiss don’t go to the top of a mountain unless there is a restaurant there.)
One thing that struck me during our first few days was that each region in Switzerland has its own specialized baked goods, particularly at the holidays. Despite Switzerland being such a small country, there are considerable regional differences from dialect to food and traditions. There are 4 official languages spoken in Switzerland — German, French, Italian and a mountain language called Romanisch. Each of these regions tend to follow traditions similar to their language roots but are still uniquely Swiss.
My father is from the German speaking region near Basel so our traditions tend to be more German-influenced. The decorations are very much inspired by nature such as pine branches, pine cones and wooden decorations. You’ll also see a version of Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread), called Leckerli. Another regional Swiss cookie you’ll see are Brunsli. They are often called Swiss brownies and have been around since the Middle Ages. Historically, they were served for any festive occasion although in recent times, they are found primarily at Christmas.
Brunsli have been gaining in popularity here in the States as they are naturally gluten-free with a spiced-chocolate flavor and a wonderfully, chewy texture. They are also really easy to make. Traditionally, these cookies are cut into a star-shaped pattern but I just made them with circles and hearts since I don’t have a star-shaped cutter.
This is my grandmother’s recipe. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.