Lebkuchen Hearts

Forget the bratwursts. And the beer. And the sauerkraut. And even the wiener schnitzel. This Oktoberfest, I’m all about the lebkuchen hearts.

If you’ve ever taken part in an Oktoberfest celebration, you’ve seen them. They’re the beautifully decorated gingerbread hearts emblazoned with love messages and cute sayings. Women wear them on ribbons around their necks. Men attach them to their lederhosen.

Missed the memo? Diamonds and bangles are so last season. Cookies are the accessory-of-choice at this festival.

Not only are they delicious, but they’re also downright adorable.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for cute things. Kitties. Babies. Greetings cards. They all evoke a squeal of delight and a general warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

But slap the words “Ich liebe Dich” (“I love you”) on a heart-shaped cookie and just call me Dorothy Boyd. Total “you had me at hello” moment. Here come the warm fuzzies.

Lebkuchen Hearts

Active time: 30 minutes (plus time for decorating)
Start to finish: 6 hours
Makes about 2 dozen medium hearts

Ingredients
For the cookies
3 to 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup honey
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, finely minced
2 medium eggs, beaten

For the royal icing
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
Food coloring, if desired

Directions

In a medium bowl, sift 3 cups flour with baking soda and salt; set aside.  In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring molasses and honey to boiling, then cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in spices and zests until well-mixed. Add the molasses mixture to the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and mix until well-incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and stir until well-mixed. Add in as much of the remaining flour as needed to get a soft dough. (You may need to transfer the dough from your stand mixer to your counter top to finish mixing.) Shape dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until cold, 4 hours or up to 48 hours.

On a floured-surface, roll dough 1/3-inch thick. Cut into heart shapes, and transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Brush cutouts with slightly beaten egg white. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Do not let edges brown. Cool 10 minutes.

While cookies are baking, make the icing. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. For a stiffer icing, add more powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached. Add food coloring, if desired. For immediate use, transfer icing to pastry bag. Store in an airtight container as icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.

Decorate with royal icing piped onto thoroughly cooled cookies.

Decorating suggestions

It is traditional to decorate your lebkuchen hearts with cute sayings and give them to loved ones. Here are some of my favorites:

“Ich liebe Dich” (I love you)
“Ich mag Dich” (I like you)
“Gruß aus München” (Greetings from Munich)
“Gruß vom Oktoberfest ” (Hello from the Oktoberfest)
“Spatzl” (little sparrow)
“Für mein Mädl” (for my girl)
“Drücke mich” (hug me)
“Meiner Kuschelmaus” (my snuggle-mouse)
“Ich bin total verrueckt nach Dir” (I’m totally crazy for you)
“Du bist mein suepes Herzchen” (you are my super love )
“Ich denke nur noch an Dich” (I think only of  you)

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