Sunday, November 21, 2010

German Holiday Traditions: Lebkuchen Hearts

I'm starting to get a little of my Christmas spirit back now that I've started thinking about all of the holiday foods that come with the season. Christmas is probably the time of year I'm most in touch with my German heritage as my mother made sure to include a lot of German holiday traditions as I grew up. I've chosen to keep most of those traditions now that I'm grown and live on my own, but the one tradition I refuse to uphold is waiting until December 24th to put up the Christmas tree. That's all good and well when you're a kid and believe that Santa sneaks into the house on Christmas Eve to deposit your presents and tree but now that I know better I want to enjoy my tree for longer than two weeks.

Of course, there are wonderful German traditions I'm only too happy to incorporate, namely the food. Christmas wouldn't be complete for me without a marzipan pig for good luck in the upcoming year and Gebrannte Mandeln (toasted sugar almonds) threatening to shatter my teeth. Another of my favorite treats is Lebkuchen, a soft, spiced cookie with citrus flavors.
My mom and I pay a pretty penny every year to buy some imported from the fatherland. Considering how frugal we both are the rest of the year this is a testament to our love for the stuff.

Lebkuchen is often sold in giant heart-shaped forms with little messages written across the middle. They're usually nice, sweet messages like, "I love you" but I made a few for my brother that are less than kind. I wouldn't want to miss out on an opportunity to insult him.

Dummkopf = stupid head
Ich liebe dich = I love you
Schatzi = darling
Frohe Weihnachten = Merry Christmas

The recipe below is a nice substitute when the real stuff can't be found but I have to say it's nowhere near as good. The flavors are all there but something is lacking. Must be that magical German air. Still, they herald the start of the holiday season for me and I'm happy to have them to tide me over until my international shipment arrives. Although similar to gingerbread cookies with the variety of spices, I prefer these because they're softer and the chewy bite from the mixed peel stands out. This is the reason I made that candied citrus peel and I think it was well worth it. I hope you give them a try to bring a little German spirit into your Christmas this year!

Lebkuchen Hearts
Recipe from

60 grams unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1/4 cup mixed peel, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, slightly broken
1 egg
Dark chocolate, melted (optional)

1) Place the butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until butter melts and mixture comes to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

2) Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom into a large bowl. Add the lemon rind, mixed peel and almonds and stir to combine. Add the egg and the honey mixture and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 1/2 hours to rest.

3) Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until smooth. Roll out to a 5mm-thick disc. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes from dough and place on the lined trays, leaving space for spreading. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside on trays to cool completely.

4) When cool, if desired, spread melted chocolate on the bottom of each cookie.

Buttercream Frosting (For Decorating)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 heaping cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon heavy cream
Food coloring

1) Beat butter and sugar until combined. Add cream and beat until smooth.
2) Divide frosting and tint with food coloring. Pipe decoratively onto cookies.


Anonymous said...

No German blood at all in this house, but these sound good. Maybe we'll try them. Side comment- when we were in high school, I took Spanish and my sister took German. One time we were fighting and she called me geburstag head and told me it meant something terrible. Only later did I discover she was calling me Birthday head.

If/when you have children, will you uphold the tree tradition?

Kitty Deschanel said...

I'm here with some fun news this morning. You were nominated for this week's Best in Show award at my blog! If you have a free moment, be sure to come vote for yourself :)