My 8-year old self is reading this post in horror.
She cannot believe I would spend any time making, decorating, or writing about these terrible cookies.
She doesn't know yet that she grew up and realized that maybe childhood taste buds aren't the best arbiter of judgement.
(Except when in comes to marzipan. Those beautiful little candy animals in the local bakery she begged to try actually were terrible. No mistakes made there, because pure concentrated almond flavor is gross.)
When I was living in Germany and going on touristy elementary school field trips, I would always inevitably see these beautifully decorated, gigantic cookie hearts hanging by their ribbons from some kiosk or another, usually near the front entrance of whatever zoo or Christmas Market we were visiting that day. Their brightly colored icings showed whimsical pictures and spelled out German phrases I couldn't read, but contrasted beautifully with the deep color of the cookie underneath. I was definitely interested.
On one trip to the Frankfurt Zoo, I finally decided I was going to buy one of these beautiful cookies. The lady selling them told me they were gingerbread, so I, remembering the delicious gingerbread men I had baked from a roll of Pillsbury dough, eagerly handed over my Marks. I waited until I was back on the bus to try my cookie. Trying to preserve the colorful design, I broke off a small bit from the bottom and took a bite.
You know when you bite into something and you immediately know you hate it but you're too embarrassed to spit it out? That was me, sitting on a school bus and desperately trying to chew through this rock hard cookie and swallow it without experiencing more of the flavor than I could help. It didn't taste like those gingerbread men at all! It had spices in it and a sharp flavor, and I hated it. I felt like I had been duped. I wrapped up the rest of the cookie and brought it home, where I think I stared at the pretty designs for a few days and then tossed it in the trash.
20 years later, and I've since come to appreciate the flavors of real gingerbread, with its warm spices and strong flavor. A few months ago, I found myself thinking about those cookies again, and wondering if maybe it was time to try again. I did a little research and it turns out they are not just made to hang on carts at zoos and lure unsuspecting children. These gingerbread hearts, or Lebkuchen, are actually a festive part of the annual Oktoberfest celebrations, which start this weekend! So I made some!
I found some recipes online and learned that they do traditionally contain some anise seed in the spice mix, so that's probably what I hated the taste of as a child, because licorice is also gross! So I left it out of my cookies, obviously. Also, some recipes I found claimed these cookies aren't meant to be eaten, even though the dough is edible, so I went with one that seemed like the intent was to eat, since I wasn't about to spend 4 hours icing cookies that were destined for the trash (it is true though, that to get cookies sturdy enough to hang by ribbons, you do need a dough that bakes up a bit drier than you otherwise might want).
These take some time and effort, but they were an extremely fun way to spend a weekend afternoon. I learned that my piping skills are not awful, and also that making 10 giant, 5-inch gingerbread cookies is not a great idea unless you have a plan for them, but they sure are beautifully decorating my freezer at the moment! If you want a fun, non-bear, non-bratwurst way to celebrate Oktoberfest this year, I highly recommend.
Adapted from BellaOnline
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 large eggs
- 2-3 cups flour (I needed all of it)
- 1 cup rye flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg white, for brushing dough
- In a small saucepan, bring molasses and honey to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of a mixer, rub sugar and zests together for a minute to release the oils, then cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add spices and beat until fully incorporated, then add the molasses mixture and beat until combined. Then beat in the eggs one at a time.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt and then add to the liquid mixture. Add more flour if necessary, to end up with a dough that is soft, but not sticky. Turn dough out onto plastic wrap and seal into a round. Refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to make cookies, heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out, in two batches, 1/3 inch thick. Cut into heart shapes with a 5-inch cutter (or any size you like) and place a couple inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. If planning to string hearts with ribbon, use a straw to make two holes at tops of hearts.
- Brush dough with lightly beaten egg white and bake, 12-15 minutes, until puffed slightly but not too browned at the edges. If you poked holes in your cookies you may need to rewiden the holes since they will have closed a bit during baking. It's best to do this while they are warm. Let cool completely before frosting.
- 2 egg whites
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- Combine ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and beat until stiff, about 5 minutes. Add more sugar for stiffer frosting, but make sure it is soft enough to pipe.
- Dye icing desired colors and decorate cookies as desired. Let icing harden overnight and then cookies are ready to eat! String up with ribbons into necklaces for the full, traditional effect.
Some traditional phrases:
Ich liebe dich: I love you
Ozapft is!: It's tapped!
Ich bin single: I am single (obviously had to go with this one!)
Not so traditional phrases:
The name of your blog!