Traditional German gingerbread cookies, also known as Lebkuchen in German, are soft, chewy, and spicy, and come in many different flavors and sizes. Think gingerbread houses, hearts, or gingerbread men this. This authentic recipe is all you need this Christmas season and it’s so simple, that even the kids can do it. No fancy ingredients such as molasses or potash are needed. It’s my family’s go-to holiday gingerbread biscuit recipe and I hope it’ll be yours too!
Learn more about how Germans enjoy the holiday season, aka Weihnachtszeit in German, in this comprehensive Weihnachten guide.
What is the difference between German and American gingerbread?
Bavarian gingerbread is traditionally made with honey, spices, ground nuts, rye flour, and orange peel, while American gingerbread prominently features molasses and ginger.
- All-purpose flour – Plain flour or all-purpose flour works best for this recipe.
- Wholemeal rye flour – Wholemeal rye flour adds a rich flavor and wholesome texture to these German spice cookies but you can swap it for wholemeal wheat flour if needed.
- Butter – Softened salted or unsalted butter both work well for this recipe.
- Honey – A mild, runny honey adds sweetness and a chewy texture to these delicious German Lebkuchen cookies.
- Brown sugar – Brown sugar gives the cookies sweetness as well as depth of flavor. You can use white sugar if needed.
- Eggs – You’ll need two medium-sized farm fresh eggs at room temperature.
- Baking soda – The leavening agent.
- Spices – Warming spices give these spice cookies their distinct flavor. The amount of ground ginger, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom can be adjusted to suit your taste.
- Lemon – Lemon zest complements the warming ginger-led spices.
- Cocoa – Dutch-processed cocoa powder not only gives the cookies a darker shade but also adds a rich chocolate flavor and color.
- Powdered sugar – Icing the cookies is optional but I suggest a simple icing sugar and water glaze or royal icing.
How to make Lebkuchen
- Combine wet ingredients.
- Add in dry ingredients and form a homogenous dough.
- Chill the dough for at least 1 hour in the fridge.
- Roll out the dough and cut out desired cookie shapes.
- Bake the gingerbread cookies for 8-10 minutes in the oven.
- Once the cookies have fully cooled down, apply the icing.
- Don’t skip the chilling time. The dough will firm up, making it easier to create the homemade gingerbread.
- If the dough gets too warm while working it, chill it again. Resist adding more flour to the surface or the Lebkuchen will be dry.
- Bake the dough for longer if you’re using it for a gingerbread house for more stability.
Traditional German gingerbread icing
Powdered sugar-based icing offers a nice contrast to the amber-colored cookies, the simple sweetness complements the complex spiced cookies nicely. Here are some popular types of icing for German Christmas cookies:
- Powdered sugar icing (1 cup powdered sugar / 1 tbsp water)
- Sugar glaze (3/4 cup powdered sugar / 1 1/2 tbsp water)
- Royal icing (1 1/2 cups powdered sugar / 1 egg white )
Chocolate-covered Lebkuchen is another delicious way these German dessert cookies are served. Roll out the dough nice and thick for a softer cookie if you’re covering it with a chocolate glaze.
Different types of Lebkuchen
Traditional German gingerbread originated in the 14th century and now comes in many different shapes and sizes. There are certainly no rules you need to stick to but here are popular Lebkuchen varieties:
Lebkuchen heart (Lebkuchenherz)
These are typically sold at fairs including Oktoberfest and come with personal messages such as “I love you”. They’re a candid gift and can be worn like a necklace.
You can use this recipe to make a gingerbread heart. Simply roll the dough out in a large heart shape and bake it for longer. Decorate it with a simple powdered icing and your message of choice.
Gingerbread house (Lebkuchenhaus)
Gingerbread houses come in all sizes and styles. You can download a free template here.
To make a gingerbread house using this recipe, simply bake the Lebkuchen a few minutes longer to ensure it’s not too soft. Make sure the pieces are fully cooled down before you assemble the house. Use a thick powdered sugar icing, and decorate in a variety of candies, those houses not only look good but last for a few weeks.
Nürnberger Lebkuchen are a special kind of Bavarian gingerbread. They are made with ground almonds and candied lemon peel and sit on thin, tasteless communion wafers called “Backoblaten”. You can find them in many different shapes including hearts, circles, diamonds, stars, or rectangles covered in a chocolate glaze or sugar glaze. They’re typically decorated with whole or slivered almonds.
Pfeffernüsse, aka Peperknoten in the Netherlands, are small, round ginger spiced cookies. They are lighter than other gingerbread varieties and have a sugar glaze, adding extra sweetness and a unique white appearance.
Attributed to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who served the figurines to foreign dignitaries, these uniquely shaped Lebkuchen have found a home in Germany despite their British tradition. Decorated with colored chocolate buttons and icing they make a tasty treat for all ages.
Gingerbread cookies are best stored at room temperature in a cookie tin, jar, or airtight container. Make sure the icing has fully dried before adding them to the containers.
Stored correctly at room temperature, they will last for about 3-4 weeks. You can also freeze them for up to 3 months.
Gingerbread is called Lebkuchen in Germany.
Traditional German Gingerbread Cookies (Lebkuchen)
- 1/2 cup butter softened
- 125 g honey
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups wholemeal rye flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground clove
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tbsp cocoa
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp water
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the soft butter, honey, and brown sugar with an electric mixer or stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time while stirring until all wet ingredients are well combined.1/2 cup butter, 125 g honey, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs
- Slowly add the two types of flour, baking soda, cocoa, lemon zest, and spices. Mix everything until you have homogenous sticky cookie dough.2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 cups wholemeal rye flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground clove, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tbsp cocoa
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. This makes it easier to work with.
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
- To make the cookies, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut out your preferred shapes. Make sure they are about the same size to ensure they bake evenly. Place the cookies onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
- Bake the gingerbread cookies in the oven for 8-10 minutes on the baking sheet. Let them fully cool down on a wire rack.
- To make the icing, thoroughly mix the powdered sugar with water and add it to a piping bag. You can use a sandwich bag and cut off a corner to make your own. Add the icing to the cookies and let them dry for 1 hour or until dry to the touch. Enjoy!1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tbsp water