Christmas Around the World: Lebkuchenherzen (German Gingerbread Hearts)

We’re back with our fascinating tour of Christmas crafts and traditions from different countries! This time, we’re visiting Germany and sampling their delightful gingerbread cookies that are everywhere during the holiday season. Called “lebkuchen” – or when in the shape of hearts, “lebkuchenherzen” – these beloved confections are a blend of honey, mixed spices, nuts and candied fruits. The heart-shaped ones are often decorated with piped icing designs and greetings, as they are also used as gifts, souvenirs and hanging ornaments. See how you can bake up some in your own home kitchen this Christmas!

A Bit of History

Lebkuchen trace their origins all the way back to the 14th century in Germany. Today, they live on throughout the country, but especially in the city of Nürnberg which is famed for its own nut-rich version of these traditional cookies. The heart-shaped lebkuchenherzen are especially pretty, and fill the stalls at German Christmas markets come wintertime.

How to Make German Lebkuchenherzen

The basic ingredients of lebkuchen are honey, spices (aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice) and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts) or candied fruits.

If you can find a specialty food shop or online source for German “Lebkuchengewürz,” a ready-to-use mixture of the spices for these cookies, you’re in luck! Otherwise, you can buy the ground spices individually and blend them yourself, as some of these recipes reveal.

Then, decorate the finished heart cookies as you wish, inspired by our lovely finds!

Weinachten Lebkuchenherzen

As one post we discovered remarked, “There are as many lebkuchen recipes as there are bakers!” So feel free to use any of the following as the base recipe for your cookies, then let your creativity flow – from the toppings and decorations to the packaging as presents or ornaments!

Fun flavors – As a variation on the base cookies, you can make “thumbprint” centers and fill them with marmalade or raspberry jam, and use melted chocolate to make a coating (1).

Fancy decorations – You could try pretty piped icing borders and almond flower designs (2), piped greetings like “Frohe Weinachten” (“Merry Christmas”) or “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) (3), or fancy topping patterns using icing, almonds, and chocolate pieces (5).

Ornaments and gifts – What about personalizing the cookies with piped icing names (4), to mimic the festive displays of hanging ornaments in German Christmas markets and souvenir shops (6)? Or package them in clear bags with holiday trimmings to give as gifts (8).

Healthy variations – You can even find vegan versions of lebkuchen, using plant-based milk and an egg-replacement ingredient (7), and gluten-free lebkuchen made with honey, brown sugar and treacle, topped with a white sugar glaze (9).

Lebkuchenherzen – a truly heartwarming tradition and treat from the land of Christmas markets, Germany!

Recipe and image sources: 1 – Taste.com / 2 – Living at Home / 3 – Living Social / 4 – Villeroy and Boch / 5 – Herzelieb / 6 – The Hungry Traveler / 7 – Veganised Co. UK / 8 – Chef Koch / 9 – The Happy Coeliac

 

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