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Mississippi Food Culture Spotlight: German Gingerbread Hearts

Lebkuchenherz (gingerbread hearts) are traditional German gingerbread biscuit-like cakes decorated with icing. They are typically flat, plate-sized hearts decorated with royal icing. They are made of “Lebkuchen,” a gingerbread like cake made from honey and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves.


You will find these gingerbread hearts typically sold at large German fairs such as Oktoberfest (during beer fest time, you may see them referred to as "Wiesnherz") and Christkindl (Christmas) Markets. They are popular souvenirs and are great as gifts.


Lebkuchenherz, or German Gingerbread hearts

German Lebkuchenherz (Gingerbread Hearts)

This recipe makes 8 hearts each about 6” x 7” (dinner plate sized) Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (7/8 stick)

  • 1 cup honey

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, well packed

  • 2 Tablespoons gingerbread spice (buy in the store or make your own; see recipe at bottom)

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

  • 4 cups flour (loosely tipped in, not packed)

  • 1 egg

Method:

  1. Place the butter, honey and brown sugar in a small pot and place it on the stove. Melt the ingredients over low heat.

  2. Remove pot from the heat and leave to rest until it reaches room temperature.

  3. Add in the gingerbread spice, baking powder, cocoa powder and egg to the honey mixture. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix the ingredients until combined.

  4. Slowly add in the flour and knead to a thick dough.

  5. Cover the dough, or place in an airtight container, and leave to rest for at least 5 hours at room temperature.

  6. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

  7. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a approximate thickness of 1/4”.

  8. As the dough is very sticky, use a non-stick baking mat, roll out directly on the baking parchment, or use plastic wrap to encase the dough. If the dough is too dry and starts cracking, brush a little milk on top.

  9. Using a large heart-shaped cookie cutter or a sharp knife, cut out hearts and place them on a tray lined with parchment.

  10. Cut out two holes for the strings or ribbon to thread through with a straw.

  11. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes. Check that they do not turn too dark.

  12. Leave to cool completely before decorating.

Lebkuchenherz, German Gingerbread hearts

Royal Icing Decorations: Ingredients:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar

  • 2 egg whites

  • 1 pinch of salt

  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice

  • Food coloring

Method:

  1. Place the egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl.

  2. Add a pinch of salt and whisk the eggs until you can see soft peaks forming.

  3. Add the icing sugar and lemon juice in several additions. The icing should stick to the whisk but still be soft enough to be piped.

  4. Divide the icing into little bowls. Add the food coloring as desired. Remember that if the food coloring is liquid, you might need to add a little more powdered sugar again to gain the right consistency.

Traditionally, the edges of the heart are scalloped and there is a message inside such as “Ich liebe Dich” (I love you), “Liebling” (Beloved), “Gruβ aus Oktoberfest” (Greetings from Oktoberfest), or “Frohe Weihnachten” (Merry Christmas).

 

German Lebkuchen Spice Blend:

This is the standard recipe. Make larger quantities by doubling or tripling the measurements. (As always, you may want to slightly change the proportions to suit your own taste buds.)

  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves

  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1 teaspoon ground anise

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix together thoroughly in a small bowl and store in an airtight container.

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