Tuesday, December 9, 2014

German Gingerbread {Lebkuchen}

This past week my youngest son's school had a Christmas party.  Families were invited and we grilled bratwurst over fire pits in the school yard, had hot punch and shared Christmas sweets.  If this seems like an idyllic German setting, let me set the record straight.  It was dark at 4:00 pm, 37 degrees out and mistily foggy.  It was a GREAT idea and I was super excited for it, but the reality was not so wonderful.  Let's just say we only lasted as long as it took my oldest to grill his bratwurst (which took way longer than his patience held out, truly) and have a few cookies.

I brought cookies to the celebration (of course).  I was excited and just a bit nervous to bring these particular cookies.  We had spent the weekend before exploring the Christmas markets in Munich and Salzburg and I fell in love with the cookie booths in both the German and Austrian cities. It's THE cookie around these parts.  And everyone's mom or grandma has their own way of making lebkuchen that is the "best" or "only" way to do it.  I think I went to one booth at the market in Salzburg that had 10 different versions for sale.  Some were studded with candies fruit, some dressed up with a chocolate coat and more plain versions decorated with almonds.  After all the tastings (purely for scientific reasons, of course) my favorites were lightly sweet and mildly spicy with a simple glaze and chewy middle.

The big question was- would my American version of everyone's favorite go over with the teachers and family's at my son's school.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I popped in the morning after the big grill out and the teacher gave me a big thumbs up while snacking on the leftover cookies.  Phew!  I'm so glad because I just love this cookie and having others feel the same way just feels so good.

German Gingerbread {Lebkuchen}
Makes about 3 dozen 3 inch cookies.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This recipe is the result of quite a bit of research into traditional lebkuchen recipes.  There were so many ways I could have gone, but I think after much tinkering I came up with my ideal version.  A few notes.  First, many lebkuchen recipes require long resting times either before or after baking to produce a more mature flavor.  I suppose that would work, but I found that an overnight rest in the fridge before baking was just right for my tastebuds.  Feel free to let the dough rest up to three days if you fancy a stronger spiciness.  Second, though I loved the snowflake cookie cutter that I used when making the cookies for this photo, I probably wouldn't use it again.  The spiky parts of the cookie baked much more quickly than I would have liked and I missed the chewy center that is the hallmark of the lebkuchen.  I think the angel shape was perfect, but if you really want to go traditional most lebkuchen that I saw in the markets were round.  If you find the cookies drying out as you keep them on your counter, take a cue from the Germans and place a slice of apple in your cookie jar to keep your lebkuchen fresh.

1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour

1 tbs cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest

1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp water

In a large bowl beat the honey, brown sugar and egg together.  Add the dry ingredients and carefully stir then into the wet ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough overnight and up to 3 days.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface (it can be a bit sticky) to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut shapes using a cookie cutter between 2 and 3 inches in diameter.  Place cookies on the prepared cookie sheet with a couple of inches between each cookie.  Bake one sheet at a time for 5-7 minutes.  You want the cookies to puff in the center and get just the lightest of golden on the edges but NOT browned.  If you let the cookies bake until browned they will be hard and lose their chewy middle.  Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes to make them easier to handle before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Continue rolling and cutting cookies until you are out of dough (scraps can be rerolled a few times before it gets tough).

Meanwhile, mix together the powdered sugar and water to get a thin glaze.  When the cookies are completely cooled, brush them with the glaze.  Give the glaze a few minutes to set before serving.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container for 3 days on the counter.


  1. Renee, Thank you for sharing this recipe!! I am going to make it this weekend with my other Christmas cookies!!!

  2. Happy baking Gail! I hope that they turn out well for you and you savor the reminder of your time in Germany.

  3. Hi Renee! Wonderful recipe, I was just wondering what temp I should bake these cookies at? Can’t wait to hear back from you and try this recipe!

    1. Autumn, how did I miss the oven temp?!? So sorry. I've edited the recipe thanks to you, but it should have been written as 350 degrees.