These festive Lebkuchen Herzen are just like the gingerbread hearts you'd find in Germany at Oktoberfest and Christmas markets. A blend of molasses, honey, brown sugar, and melted butter creates chewy cookies that are super easy to make! And you can let your creativity run wild with the royal icing decorations.
Ever since I was a little kid in Germany, I have been obsessed with Lebkuchen Herzen, which are German gingerbread hearts. They're often decorated with designs and words like "Prost" (cheers), "Frohe Weichnachten" (Merry Christmas) or "Ich Liebe Dich" (I love you).
The cookies are often huge (bigger than my face as a kid!) and tied with ribbon to hang up or wear around your neck at festivals. I remember wanting a giant gingerbread heart so badly at the first Oktoberfest we visited!
In fact, I love these cookies so much that one year I made small Christmas ornament versions of them from clay and gifted them to my family! Obsessed much? :p
The recipe for these Lebkuchen Herzen is similar to traditional Lebkuchen (German gingerbread cookies). But instead of topping the cookies with a glaze, royal icing allows you to create beautiful designs.
They're also baked a little longer than Lebkuchen, so they can hold their shape while hung up from a ribbon. That makes their texture more similar to American gingerbread cookies.
- Molasses - I recommend using unsulphured dark molasses. Dark molasses has a stronger flavor than light molasses, but it's sweeter than blackstrap molasses, making it perfect for German gingerbread cookies.
- Honey - Adds a floral sweetness that compliments all the spices. It also adds moisture to the dough.
- Brown sugar - Adds a rich, caramel flavor and moisture to the dough. You can also use light brown sugar, but I prefer the darker color and richer caramel flavor of dark brown sugar.
- Unsalted butter - Melted butter helps keep the texture of these Lebkuchen herzen chewy.
- All purpose flour - Provides the structure for these soft cookies and a neutral flavor so it doesn't compete with the baking spices.
- Baking spices - ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice add warmth and tons of spiced flavor. You could replace all the individual spices with a blend called Lebkuchengewürz.
- Salt - table salt or fine sea salt enhances the flavors of all the other ingredients and distributes more evenly into cookie dough than kosher salt.
- Baking soda - Leavens the cookies to help them rise in the oven. The baking soda is activated by the acidity in the molasses and brown sugar.
- Eggs - Binds all the ingredients together to form a cohesive cookie dough.
How to Make Lebkuchen Herzen
Below are the general steps to make these delicious cookies. For the full step-by-step directions and ingredient measurements, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
1. In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the honey, molasses, brown sugar, and butter.
3. Mix the flour mixture and melted butter mixture together on low speed to form a dense crumbly mixture, like wet sand.
5. Cover the mixing bowl with a plate or plastic cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight, for at least eight hours or up to three days.
7. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Allow to cool completely.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, spices, salt, and baking soda.
4. Add the two eggs and mix again on low speed until the eggs are mixed in fully, and it forms a thick, dense cookie dough.
6. Roll out the dough on a heavily floured surface to ¼ inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out hearts, and transfer them to a baking sheet.
8. Decorate the cooled cookies with royal icing using a piping bag and a nozzle with a small round tip.
- Use the tip of a straw the cut out holes in the cookie dough to tie ribbons on the baked cookies. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, use the straw to recreate the holes again in the cookies while they are still soft, since the holes will become smaller as the cookies spread in the oven.
- This cookie dough is very sticky, especially once it's rolled out. Heavily dust your work surface as you roll out the dough, and try to keep moving it around to prevent it from sticking to your counter. Keep sprinkling flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface.
- Use a brush or your fingers to lightly dust away any excess flour from the shaped cookies before baking them.
- Allow your cookies to cool completely before icing them. The icing will slide right off if the cookies are still warm.
- I prefer decorating my Lebkuchen Herzen with just white royal icing, for a clean, minimal look. But you can color your royal icing with food dye to create festive designs. I recommend using gel food dye, which won't add too much liquid to your icing.
- The easiest way to cut out hearts in the cookie dough is with a heart-shaped plastic or metal cookie cutter. However, you can create a template from cardboard and use a paring knife to cut out the shapes with your DIY stencil.
Store cookies at room temperature for up to two weeks in an airtight container. Be careful when stacking the cookies, because the icing might get squished.
Gingerbread Heart Sayings
German Lebkuchen Herzen are most often purchased as gifts for friends, family, and love interests. Below are some common sayings that are written on these festive cookies.
- Ich Liebe Dich (I love you)
- Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas)
- Du bist süß (you are sweet)
- Herzblatt (sweetheart)
- Für immer Freunde (friends forever)
- Ich bin Single (I am single)
- Prost (cheers)
- Frohes Fest (happy holidays)
- Gruß vom Oktoberfest (greetings from Octoberfest)
Frequently Asked Questions
If you add too much water, your icing will become runny and you won't be able to create your designs on the cookies. Mix in one tablespoon of sifted powdered sugar at a time until it thickens to the right consistency.
If your royal icing is too thick, it'll be difficult to squeeze out of the piping bag for decorating. In the mixing bowl, whisk in one teaspoon of water at a time until your icing is the right consistency.
Yes, you can make the cookie dough and chill it in the fridge for up to 3 days in advance. Or freeze the dough for up to 3 months, and allow it to thaw in the fridge.
Baked cookies will last several weeks when stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
More German Baking Recipes
- German Gingerbread Cookies (Lebkuchen)
- German Spiced Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)
- Almond Horn Cookies (Mandelhörnchen)
- German Applesauce Cake
- German Marble Cake (Marmorkuchen)
- German Onion Tart (Zwiebelkuchen mit Äpfeln)
Lebkuchen Herzen (Gingerbread Hearts)
- ⅓ cup unsulphured dark molasses
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (packed into the measuring cup)
- 6 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 1¾ cups powdered sugar
- 1 egg white
- 2 to 3 tsp water
Make the Cookies
- In a small saucepan on low heat, add the honey, molasses, brown sugar, and butter. Stir often and be careful not to let the mixture boil. Keep stirring until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, spices, salt, baking soda and orange zest.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with an electric whisk, add the flour mixture then the butter mixture and mix on low speed to form a dense crumbly mixture, like wet sand.
- Add the two eggs and mix on low speed until the eggs are mixed in fully, and it forms a dense cookie dough. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula or spoon to ensure everything is evenly mixed.
- Cover the mixing bowl with a plate or plastic cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight, for at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough on a heavily floured surface to ¼ inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, and immediately transfer them to the prepared baking sheet.Spread out the cookies on the baking sheet at least 3 inches apart.The dough is very sticky, especially once it's rolled out, so keep adding a dusting of flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface.
- Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.
- Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.
Make the Royal Icing
- Sift the powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment.
- Add the egg white and begin beating it on a very low speed. Gradually increase the speed of your mixer and beat it for about 5 minutes on a high speed, until it is thick and creamy.
- Add on teaspoon of water to your icing to thin it out. If you pick some up with a spatula and let it drip in ribbons back into the bowl, it should sink back into the rest of the icing and leave no trace within about 10 seconds.If it's still too thick, add another teaspoon of water.
Decorate the Cookies
- Fill a piping bag with a small round nozzle with the royal icing.If you want to color your icing, put a little in a bowl and mix in food coloring, then add it to another piping bag. Pipe decorations onto your cookies. Allow the icing to harden for about an hour, then enjoy!!