Gingerbread cookies or Lebkuchen are traditional German cookies made from honey (or molasses), citrus, spices and flour. Traditionally, all those spices made them expensive and they were considered to be health-giving, so they were sold in pharmacies. Hence the name „Lebkuchen“ which is derived from the German word for life, Leben. Thankfully, spices are now available to all of us, Please note that this lovely Honey-Gingerbread cookie recipe uses honey instead of molasses, lending a wonderful smell and taste to these Christmas cookies that are sure to become one of your favorites. And the addition of Dutch process cocoa powder lends these cutouts a gorgeous, rich hue with just a very delicate hint of chocolate flavor.
The secret in this recipe is the raising agent. You should not be tempted to use baking powder (Backpulver), instead you should go the extra mile and try to track down the thing us Germans traditionally use – Pottasche, or potassium carbonate. This both gives the gingerbread dough a “lift” but also causes it to keep absorbing moisture after baking, so the biscuits will become softer with time.
Honey-Gingerbread Cutouts – Honig-Lebkuchen-Pferde
Ingredients for the Cookie Dough
- 250 grams runny honey (use mild tasting, local honey if at all possible)
- 250 grams light brown Muscovado sugar (or use other fine light brown baking sugar)
- 150 grams unsalted butter
- 625 grams AP (plain) flour
- a good pinch of fine sea salt
- finely grated zest of an organic lemon (or use organic orange zest instead)
- 2 tsps. gingerbread spice mix* (Lebkuchengewürz)
- 25 grams Dutch process cocoa powder
- 1 egg (L), organic or free range
- 1 tsp. potassium carbonate** (Pottasche)
- 2 tbsps dark rum or water
(*) To make your own gingerbread spice mix, consult my recipe here.
(**) To get potassium carbonate outside of Germany, buy it from your favorite German Deli or order it online.
Ingredients for the Icing
- 250 grams confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
- 1 egg white (L), organic or free range
- a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preparation of the Cookie Dough
- To a medium saucepan, add the honey, sugar and butter. Heat gently using medium high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved completely. Take the saucepan off the heat, transfer the honey mixture to a bowl and cool completely.
- Transfer the cooled honey mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add the flour, salt, lemon zest, the spice mix, cocoa powder and the egg to the butter mixture.
- Using the dough hooks of your mixer, mix all the ingredients together well.
- In a small bowl or cup, stir together the potassium carbonate and the rum (or water) – stir until completely dissolved. Then add to the cookie dough.
- Using the dough hooks of your mixer again, mix the dough until it is firm and sticky.
- Cover the mixing bowl with food wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours or better yet, overnight.
- The next day, line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Pre-heat your oven to 180 ° C (356° F).
- Take a portion of the dough and place it on your lightly floured work surface.
- Cut out cookie using your favorite seasonal cookie cutters and place on the baking sheets.
- Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes or until slightly puffed and until edges turn golden.
- Let cookies cool completely on baking sheets set on wire racks.
Preparation of the Icing
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and beat with a mixer on low speed until smooth, about 4 minutes.
- If icing is too thick, add some more lemon juice, a few drops at a time, until icing has the consistency of glue; if too thin, beat icing 2 to 3 minutes more, or add more sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Icing the Cookies
- Place icing in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip. Pipe details on cookies.
- Let set completely, uncovered, at room temperature, at least one hour or (ideally) overnight.
These Honey-Gingerbread Cutouts puff up a bit and if you can leave them, they do get better with time. So, if you are able, I really recommend waiting a few hours or a day before munching away on them and do try to get your hands on potassium carbonate.
Another quite handy little thing about making these is that they lend themselves to being made when you have some spare time during the busy pre-Christmas season. You can easily make the dough ahead of time, let it sit for up to a few days so that the aroma of the spices can develop, then shape and bake the cookies a few days later.
These Honey-Gingerbread Cutouts really are sensational. If you can get hold of the Pottasche, then add these lovelies with the real taste of Christmas to your „must-bake“ list and let your imagination be your guide when cutting out your favorite shapes.
When I baked these, I used cookie cutters shaped after the famous Swedish Dalecarlian horse, a traditional carved, painted wooden horse statuette originating in Swedish province Dalarna (Dalecarlia). In the old days the Dalecarlian horse was mostly used as a toy for children. Today it has become a symbol of Dalarna, as well as Sweden in general. Several different types of Dalecarlian horses are made, with distinguishing features common to the locality of the place where they are carved and painted. Loved these ever since I was a child and laid my eyes on them!