Traditional German gingerbread cookies are soft, chewy, and spicy, and come in many different flavors and sizes. Think gingerbread houses, hearts, or gingerbread men. This authentic recipe works for all of these 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 gingerbread biscuit recipe and I hope it’ll be yours too!
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Authentic German recipe
- Quick and easy
- Staple ingredients (no molasses, potash or pearl ash, gingerbread spice needed)
- All-purpose flour – Plain flour or all-purpose flour work best for this recipe.
- Wholemeal rye flour – Wholemeal rye flour adds a rich flavor and wholesome texture to these 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 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 eggs at room temperature for this recipe.
- Baking soda – The leavening agent.
- Spices – Warming spices give these 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 spices.
- Cocoa – Dutch-processed cocoa powder not only gives the cookies a darker shade but also adds some rich flavor.
- Powdered sugar – Icing the cookies is optional but I suggest a simple icing sugar and water glaze or royal icing.
How to make gingerbread
- 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 cookies.
- If the dough gets too warm while working it, chill it again. Resist adding more flour to the surface or the cookies will be dry.
- Bake the dough for longer if you’re using it for a gingerbread house for more stability.
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 gingerbread:
- 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 )
Traditional German gingerbread comes in many different shapes and sizes and there are certainly no rules you need to stick to but here are some popular shapes:
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 gingerbread a few minutes longer to ensure it’s not too soft. Make sure the pieces are fully cooled down before you’re assembling the house. Use a thick powdered sugar icing, and decorated in a variety of candies, those houses not only look good but last for a few weeks.
Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen are a special kind of regional gingerbread. They are made with ground nuts and candied citrus peel and sit on thin, tasteless wafers called “Backoblaten”. You can find them in many different shapes including hearts, circles, diamonds, stars, or rectangles covered in chocolate or sugar glaze. They’re typically decorated with whole or slivered almonds.
Pfeffernüsse, aka Peperknoten in the Netherlands, are small, round gingerbread cookies, that are lighter than other gingerbread varieties. A sugar glaze adds extra sweetness and gives them their unique white appearance.
Attributed to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who served the figurines to foreign dignitaries, these delicious cookies have also found a home in Germany despite their British tradition. Decorated with colored chocolate buttons and icing they make a tasty treat for all ages.
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How do you store gingerbread?
Gingerbread cookies are best stored at room temperature in a cookie tin or jar. Make sure the icing has fully dried before adding them to the containers.
How long do gingerbread cookies last?
Stored correctly at room temperature, they will last for about 3-4 weeks. You can also freeze them for up to 3 months.
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 bowl, mix the soft butter, honey, and brown sugar. 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 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 into clingfilm and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. This makes it easier to work with.
- Preheat the oven to 356F/180C.
- To make the cookies, roll out the dough 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 baking tray.
- Bake the gingerbread cookies in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Let them fully cool down on a cookie tray.
- 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