Lebkuchen Cookies, aka German Christmas cookies, are deliciously spicy, soft, gingerbread-like cookies made with honey, spices, and nuts. Dressed up with almonds and a cherry, then brushed with a shiny sugar glaze, they will be the prettiest cookies on your holiday table.
This German Christmas cookie, traditionally known as a German Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen, has been a tradition in my family for years. It was my dad's favorite and I made it for him every year until he passed away. They are similar to his much beloved gingerbread which may have been why he favored them so much. Now I make them in memory of him.
What exactly is a Lebkuchen
Lebkuchens are known as German gingerbread cookies. They were originally invented by German monks back in the 13th century and known as honey cakes. It was believed they had magical healing powers and often wore them as a talisman in battle as protection against evil spirits.
They can be made in a variety of shapes, round being the most common. The cookies are flavored with honey and plenty of spices and commonly contain nuts and crystallized ginger (or the more common citron). Plus they are one of the only cookies with no fat other than eggs. Today they are one of the most popular German cookies made at Christmas time.
OK, right off the bat, I have to tell you that these German spice cookies take a little bit of work. However, once you take a bite you'll know that they are worth every minute of your time. Just follow the steps below and they'll go together without much fuss. I like to make them at least a week ahead of time and store them in an airtight tin to enhance the spicy flavors.
Frequently asked questions
Can I freeze these cookies?
Absolutely! The uncooked dough can be frozen for up to 6 months. Just make sure to wrap it in plastic wrap then secure in a plastic freezer bag. Thaw in the refrigerator prior to rolling out and baking.
You can also freeze the baked cookies for the same 6 months. Just put freezer paper between cookies and place in an airtight resealable freezer bag.
Why don't these cookies have the traditional wafer on the bottom?
The wafer is placed underneath the cookie dough to prevent sticking and is usually not eaten. In lieu of the wafer, you can bake them on parchment paper or a silicone mat and get the same result much easier.
How to make German Christmas Cookies
- Combine the four, baking soda, salt and spices in a large bowl and set aside. (photo 1)
- In a medium saucepan, heat honey, molasses and sugar to boiling and stir continuously until sugar has dissolved. You can test this by running a spoon through it and checking to see if any sugar crystals are present. If they are, boil a little longer. (photo 2)
- You will see it foam up and get a beautiful golden color. (photo 3)
- Let cool slightly. Then add egg, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cooling the liquid will prevent the egg from solidifying when added. (photo 4)
- Add wet ingredients to flour mixture. (photo 5)
- Mix well until all is combined. (photo 6)
- Add chopped nuts and citron. (photo 7)
- Stir well. The dough will be very thick and sticky. (photo 8)
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight. This will make the dough easier to work with.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Divide into smaller batches and roll about a quarter of the dough at a time. Flour working surface and roll to about ¼" thickness. Cut with your favorite shaped cookie cutter. One with a 2-½" diameter works best.
- I like to decorate my lebkuchen cookies with 3 sliced almonds and half of a candied cherry in the center. It makes the cookies look even more Christmassy and pretty. Now bake for 10-12 minutes.
- Prepare the sugar glaze while the cookies are baking. Just mix confectioner's sugar with cream and a little lemon juice in a bowl. Once the cookies are out of the oven, while still warm, brush on the sugar glaze.
Let them set until the surface is shiny and hard. When cool, place them in an airtight cookie tin for about a week to enhance the spice flavors. However, I'm pretty impatient when it comes to eating something this delicious so, I know from experience, that they are almost as yummy eaten right away. It was no hardship to test that theory out. lol
These lebkuchen cookies are a great addition to holiday cookie tins. The flavor is rich and so different from the usual collection of Christmas cookies which makes them extra special in my book. Plus they are so pretty and Christmassy looking! Don't be surprised when they're the hit of your holiday baking. Enjoy!
More Christmas cookie recipes
Pinwheel Peppermint Cookies all decked out in holiday red and white.
Creme Brulee Cookies for all my coffee lovers out there!
Turtle Thumbprint Cookies are decadently flavored with both caramel and chocolate. What's not to like?
Check out more of the best cookie recipes for Christmas. Happy baking!
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- 2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup molasses
- ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ cup almonds, chopped
- ¾ cup diced candied citron
- Garnish: sliced almonds, red candied cherry halves
Hard Sugar Glaze
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar (more can be added to get to the right spreading consistency)
- 3-4 Tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- In a large bowl, combine first 7 ingredients. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine honey, molasses and sugar. Heat to boiling, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
- Cool then stir in egg, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Add to dry ingredients and beat with mixer until smooth.
- Stir in chopped nuts and citron.
- Wrap dough in moisture proof paper and chill in refrigerator overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.
- When ready to bake, roll out dough in small batches, on a floured board, to about ¼” thickness. Cut with a round or other 2-½” diameter cookie cutter.
- Place on prepared cookie sheets and decorate each with 3 almonds and a half cherry in the center.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes.
- White baking, prepare sugar glaze.
- In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, heavy cream and lemon juice. Add more sugar or cream to get a nice spreading consistency.
- While still hot, brush lebkuchen with sugar glaze. Let cool just slightly then move to wire racks to cool completely.
- Store in airtight containers for at least a week before using. They also freeze well, ship well and keep for weeks.
This post has been updated with new photos and step-by-step instructions. It was first published on December 19, 2017.