German Lebkuchen , or honey molasses gingerbread cut out cookies, have been a tradition in my family for a long time. They are such a fun Christmas cookie to make. And eat!
When I was a little kid I loved going to my grandparents house because they always had a wide variety of Lebkuchen cookies. They would always give us one of the HUGE heart shaped ones that were frosted with decorations and "Ich Libe Dich" ( I love you) written on them in icing. Those were thick softer lebkuchen cookies.
They also had little round ones that were iced with a lemony glaze and crispier, almost gingersnap like, with icing on them. I am a fan of all versions of these cookies.
I roll these thick and just slightly underbake so they aren't too crispy, still a little soft, but not as soft as the biscuit kind of Lebkuchen. I ice with a basic royal icing that sets up firm. These are really good with a cup of coffee.
The big heart shaped Lebkuchen we had as kids were always hung on the Christmas tree. Another German Christmas tradition. Unlike the pickle ornament - that one is not a German christmas tradition!
I made some of the lebkuchen cookies with holes to tie string through so they too could be hung on the tree as ornaments. You can use metal straw, skinny end of a chopstick or even a round piping tip to make the holes.
One great thing about this batter is that it doesn't spread when baked so the precut holes don't close up. The spices in these cookies help make the tree smell extra good and christmassy. Better than a tree shaped car freshener!
Another fun way to make these cookies is to number them 1-24 to have an edible advent calendar! A cookie a day until Christmas? Sign me up!
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon orange zest
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ⅓ cup cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom
- 3-4 cups all purpose flour, divided (three to four cups, divided, some is for the dough, some for rolling)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
For the Royal Icing:
- 1 tablespoon meringue powder
- 1 cup powdered sugar,
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ cup warm water
Heat the honey and molasses together until simmering, stirring well. Let cool 10 minutes.
In a bowl of a stand mixer cream together butter and sugar. Add in molasses and honey mixture and mix well. Add in the zests and vanilla and mix for another minute. Next, add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
In another bowl whisk together the cocoa powder, spices, 3 (three) cups of the flour, baking soda and salt. Add this to the butter mixture and mix until combined. The dough will be very sticky. Add in more flour one tablespoon at a time until tacky but doesn’t stick to your fingers. Divide dough into two parts and flatten into about six inch round disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 24 hours.
When ready to bake preheat oven to 350 Deg. F. Line cookie sheets with parchment.
Let the dough thaw until not quite room temperature, still cool to the touch but able to roll out. Roll out one disk at a time on a piece of wax paper, dusting with flour or cocoa powder to keep from sticking to the paper and your rolling pin, to ⅓” thick. Keep the other one chilled until ready to use.
Cut out with cutters and place on prepared cookie sheets. Dip the cutters into flour or cocoa before pressing into the dough to keep them from sticking. Bake each batch for 8 minutes ( you want to slightly under bake to keep them soft) transferring immediately to wire cooling racks once out of the oven. When cooled completely decorate with stiff royal icing.
To make the royal icing:
Mix all the ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on low speed until combined, then raise speed on medium high for 5-7 minutes or until fluffy and the frosting holds stiff peaks.
Add in more warm water a teaspoon at a time until piping consistency is reached. Drag a knife through the frosting and if it takes 20 seconds for the line to blend back in with the frosting that will be stiff enough to pipe on designs. This frosting dries stiff very quickly so when working with it keep a damp paper towel over the bowl. You can make the icing while the cookies are baking and cooling. Keep chilled with a damp paper towel over the top until ready to use. You can make the icing a day ahead of time and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Often times Lebkuchen are made to be Christmas ornaments. When cutting out the dough use a skinny straw or round icing tip to cut a hole at the top or one edge of the cookies before baking. These cookies don’t spread very much so the hole won't close up when baking. Decorate with icing and hang on your tree.
The dough freezes well. You can make the dough 2-3 months ahead of time if you want to get a jump start on your holiday baking early. Wrap well with plastic wrap then in a resealable bagging. Make sure you label and date the bags. Thaw in refrigerator before using.