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Lebkuchen as a simple dessert

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Updated: November 18, 2012 1:15AM



Late September tastes of spice. Or maybe it’s just that we want it to.

When the first nip of cooler weather chills the tips of our noses, our tastebuds go into autumnal mode. That period of transition that embraces both summery foods and early fall ingredients suddenly begins to dwindle with the late daylight hours, and more robust flavors begin to take over.

That could be why Oktoberfest is such a popular celebration. What better way to usher in the change in season and in seasonal foods than with a formal festivity? Beer and brats. Sausage and sauerkraut. And desserts — heavy on the spice. They are the flavors which fill the void that has long been left empty since the last holiday season bid adieu.

While Oktoberfest is noted for its many featured foods, there is one that sticks out as the ideal food to herald the beginning of fall, as well as to last throughout the holidays. It is the lebkuchen — more specifically, the lebkuchenherz.

These heart-shaped gingerbread cookies make their first appearance at Oktoberfest biergartens, serving as sweet finger foods to wash down with a tall pilsner. Spicy with the flavors of nutmeg, honey and molasses, these cookies are not overly sweet, save for a little lacing of hard white icing that usually spell out words of endearment, like “mein schatz” — German for “my treasure.”

Working double-duty, German gingerbread equips the autumn-loving foodie both with the flavors of the season and a reason to celebrate Oktoberfest.

Although these chewy cookies are stocked with ingredients, they are not at all overwhelming.

As a simple dessert, that little bite of gingersnap washes down better than anything else with a tall, frosty glass of milk. But as an Oktoberfest specialty, it becomes a tasty snack food — light enough to munch on before a meal and mild enough to toss back with a beer.

Perhaps one of the best assets of lebkuchen is their durability. The shelf-life on these cookies isn’t long (mainly because it will be hard to keep them out of mouths), but they will last in the freezer throughout the holiday season.

Come Thanksgiving and Christmas, they can be thawed out and passed out as treats or decorations.

Quick to whip up, this fall specialty can be made with ingredients straight from your cupboard and spice rack.

The only accessory? A heart-shaped cookie cutter.

LEBKUCHEN

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/4 cup brown sugar

11/2 tablespoons ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon citrus zest (orange or lemon or a combo of both)

3/4 cup molasses

1/3 cup honey

2 medium eggs, beaten

31/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Icing:

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1 egg white

In a pot over medium heat, boil together the molasses and honey. Set aside and let cool, about 10 minutes.

Cream together the butter, sugar, zest, cocoa powder and spices in a large bowl. Add in the honey and molasses, then the eggs.

Sift the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and then add in batches to the butter mixture. Add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if dough is too sticky. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours.

Roll out dough to a thickness of 1/3-1/2 inch. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter (on another shape), cut out shapes and put on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on sheet, then move to wire rack to cool completely. Cookies must be room temperature before decorating.

Make royal icing by whipping the powdered sugar and egg white in a mixer until thick and creamy. Add water, a little at a time, if icing is too thick. Pour into a decorating bag with a tip and pipe a border or writing on the cooled lebkuchen.



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