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Lebkuchen – German Christmas Cookies

Lebkuchen (sometimes known as pfefferkuchen) is the German answer to gingerbread, and it’s a traditional holiday treat that dates all the way back to the 13th century. Sweet and chock full of warming spices, these cookies are a bright note in the dark winter months, but deliciously addictive all year round. Softer than gingerbread, they also have the essence of orange and lemon running throughout and the snap of a sweet hard glaze on top.

Many versions are made with molasses, and some include ground almonds, and spices like coriander or cardamom, while others even include candied fruit. Pretty much all versions, though, include honey. In fact, in its earliest days, Lebkuchen was even known as “honey cake.”

Our version is a little simplified, relying on almond extract for flavor rather than ground almonds. Dark brown sugar brings in a molasses flavor, and a traditional grouping of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice adds a warm bite throughout. They’re an easy drop cookie, and should be taken out of the oven while they’re still soft. The key to keeping them soft is to store them in an airtight container with a slice of apple or orange peel. The moisture from the fruit is what gives them their signature consistency so you might even want to make them a day ahead to give them a chance to soften overnight!

Lebkuchen Cookies

30 minutes to prepare 18 cookies

Ingredients

  • For the cookies:
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • For the glaze:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
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Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the honey, brown sugar, butter, eggs, lemon and orange zest, and almond extract with an electric mixer until well combined.
  3. Add baking powder, baking soda, flour, and spices to wet ingredients and mix until combined.
  4. Drop dough by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes; cookies will be soft.
  5. Cool on wire rack. While cookies are cooling, make the glaze:
  6. In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil; let boil one minute. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar. Dip top of cookies in glaze and allow to cool completely before serving.
  7. Store cookies in an airtight container with a slice of apple or orange peel to maintain softness. Enjoy!

Adapted from One Acre Vintage Home.