classic german gingerbread

Remember that cookie dough I mixed up back at the beginning of December, the one that had to sit at room temperature for two months—TWO MONTHS—before baking?

Welp, the two months finally passed and I done did bake them up!

I scraped the dough out of the ceramic bowl, kneaded it briefly, and then rolled it out for gingerbread men. The dough was a dream to work with: slightly tacky and pliable, like a good playdough. It smelled faintly like hamsters, too, but I chalked that up to the potassium carbonate.

Once cut, the cookies have to sit at room temp for a couple hours pre-bake (I’m not sure why). (Also, speaking of pre-bake: Netflix now has the second season of The British Baking Show—time to get your bake on, people!) Right before slipping them into the oven, bits of dried fruit or nuts get pressed into the dough. I gave some of the men orange citron—or candied ginger—buttons. Both were good, but I liked the ones with candied ginger best.

These are a classic German Christmas cookie, but I doubt I’ll make these at Christmas. What with all the fruit-filled, nutty, caramel-y, chocolatey treats, these simple cookies wouldn’t stand a chance. These are more a mid-winter snack, a cookie to stuff into pockets (not that we ever stuff pockets with cookies in this house) or to pass out to cranky toddlers. In fact, this is the exact kind of cookie that I picture Danny and Annette, from Treasures of the Snow, getting every year for Christmas. It’s the sort of cookie you could eat while sledding down the Alps under a starry sky, and I suspect they did.

The long wait time is supposed to give these cookies a more complex, nuanced flavor, and there is definitely something different about these. With their chewy—tacky, almost—bite, and lingering spicy kick, I can eat three or four, easy. And yet… I’m not completely sold. They taste kind of—for lack of a better word—old, but (I think?) in the mature sense of the word. I mentioned this observation to my older son, and he was like, “Well, yeah, Mom. They are old. Two MONTHS old.”

Reviews are mixed. My older daughter says I should make at least a triple batch next year. My husband isn’t sure what he thinks about them, but every day he eats at least two. My mother offered to buy some. My girlfriend ate one and kept silent—never a good sign. My brother ate so many he told me to put the jar away.

Classic German Gingerbread (Lebkuchen
Adapted from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss.

Next time, I think I’d like a lot more candied ginger—perhaps I’ll knead a cup of minced bits into the dough before rolling it out? Also, next time I want to try giving them a crackly sugar top by brushing a hot sugar glaze (the same one I used for the basler leckerli) over the cookies immediately after pulling them from the oven.

¾ cup honey
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
7 tablespoons butter
4 cups flour
¼ cup Lebkuchengewürz spice mix (see below)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 scant tablespoon potassium carbonate
1 tablespoon water
2 eggs
optional toppings: hot sugar glaze (see below), minced candied ginger or citron, nuts

Put the honey and brown sugar in a small kettle over medium-high heat. Once the sugar has dissolved and it’s nice and warm—do not boil—remove from the heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand kitchen mixer, combine the flour, Lebkuchengewürz spice mix, cinnamon, zest, and cocoa.

In a small dish, dissolve the potassium carbonate in the tablespoon of water.

Add the eggs to the flour mixture and, using the whisk attachment, mix on low speed. Continue mixing while adding the honey mixture and then the dissolved potassium carbonate. Mix for 5 minutes until the dough is shiny.

Scrape the dough—it will be tacky and runny—into a ceramic bowl. Cover with a plate (it should not be airtight) and let sit for two months at room temperature.

to bake:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly. Roll the cookies out to ¼-inch thick and cut into gingerbread men or other shapes. Place the cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets and let sit at room temperature for a couple hours. Press bits of candied ginger, citron, and/or nuts into the tops of the cookies and then bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and lightly browned.

If using hot sugar glaze (see below), apply it immediately.

Cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight jar at room temperature. As is, they will be a bit crunchy-crispy. If you want a softer, chewier cookie, tuck a piece of bread into the jar to keep the cookies tender. They should last, at room temperature, for at least a couple months.

Hot Sugar Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup water

While the cookies are baking, heat the sugar and water until boiling. Continue boiling until much of the water has evaporated and there are large bubbles, Upon pulling the cookies from the oven, immediately brush with the hot sugar glaze before proceeding with the cooling and storing.

Lebkuchengewürz Spice Mix
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ tablespoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon each ground allspice, cardamom, ginger, and mace
¾ teaspoon ground anise

Combine and store in a cool, dark place. The mix will stay fresh for 1 year.

This same time, years previous: creamy, Costco-esque cake filling, kids and money, the quotidian (3.3.14), grocery shopping, air, print, internet, doctors galore, soda crackers, sky-high biscuits.


  • Kirsten

    We made this recipe (from Luisa’s book) in October and got out the dough today. It smells spiced but also sour, and I came across your blog when doing some googling about the smell of aged Lebkuchen dough! Your hamster description made us laugh. Would you say it was a sour smell? Luisa’s recipe doesn’t say anything about the smell of the aged dough so we’re not sure about it…

    • Jennifer Jo

      It’s been awhile so I’m not sure! I tend to think that sour smells are fine with baking: lots of recipes call for unappealing ingredients, like kefir and chunky buttermilk, that make the end product taste very wonderful. I seriously doubt they’ve gone bad (unless you live in an exceptionally hot climate). All that sugar works as a preservative. Probably the hot oven will kill off any funk. Only one way to find out!

      • Kirsten

        Thanks for your reply! We baked them, and they have no sour smell or taste now. Guess the oven zapped anything strange that grew (and if not we have a few days to develop symptoms before sharing them with family at Christmas lol.) They’re good cookies. Merry Christmas!

  • Kathy Gardner

    It didn't mold? It has raw eggs in it and it sat out for two months? I don't understand this recipe. LOL And you had me at "hamster". I had a hamster when I was a kid and that smell immediately came into my head. uggggggg

  • Mama Pea

    The dough smelled slightly like hamsters, huh? Well, we never had a hamster so I'm not sure how I should take that . . . but it made me laugh out loud anyway.

  • Gretchen

    I think I'd be tempted to make a double batch and bake half now just to see how different they are from the ones that are aged – if I can remember that long. That is, if I was tempted to make them. Which I'm not. I've gotta cut back on eating sweets.

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