… Und alles gute zum neuen jahr!
It’s a no brainer; the Germans do Christmas well. With their Weinachtsmarkt, gluhwein and delicious edibles like stollen, they tick all the boxes for me: great shopping, delicious drinks and good eating. I come from German stock on my mother’s side, and whilst it hasn’t played a too overbearing part on my life, I think around the festive season certain aspects of it have always shined through in the feasting and libations. Every year we would get these delicious German christmas biscuits called Pfeffernüsse, a tradition I still maintain, and I can’t help but get excited when I see them in shops come autumn time.
My favourite German christmas treat however is a similar creation to those ‘pepper nuts’. Europe is awash with gingerbread recipes, each country having its own version or versions with different textures and spice blends. Lebkuchen, which I have often heard called affectionately (if incorrectly) ‘Liebkuchen’ are my favourites. They burst with spice and pepper heat, plus a heady fragrance of citrus and honey.
This year I’m using this gorgeous wholemeal plain flour from Otterton Mill in Devon, which I picked up on holiday. Good wholemeal plain flour really does add a depth of colour and flavour to biscuits, though of course if you are cooking a paler treat such as a sugar cookie, the bleached stuff is probably going to give a more convincing finish. I highly recommend raiding your local market or farm shop for produce from your local mill.
This recipe makes great biscuits, large or small, and excellent edible Christmas decorations. So long as your house isn’t damp, and you can keep them away from hungry mouths, they don’t tend to stale either, meaning decorations put on the tree before Christmas can be scarfed down on twelfth night and still pack a flavour wallop.
- 200g honey
- 200g light muscovado sugar
- 50g butter
- Juice of a lemon and a small orange
- Zest of a lemon and a small orange, or a few drops of lemon and orange extract if you hate zesting/have lost your zester
- 2 free range eggs
- 550g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tsp ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
In a medium to large saucepan, heat the honey, sugar, butter and juices until dissolved and melted accordingly. Allow to cool until warm.
While your mix is cooling, weigh out all of the dry ingredients (from flour down on the list above) and either sieve or whisk together to combine and roughly remove lumps.
Whisk your eggs, then beat them into the honey mix. Add your zests and mix in.
About a third at a time, add your flour into the honey-egg mix and stir together, adding the next third when the dough begins to look wet again.
Grease a freezer/food bag and spoon in the dough. Age the dough in the fridge for 3 days. If you can’t wait that long, at least leave it alone for one day, for the flavours to develop.
Roll out the dough fairly thickly (approx 1/4 inch thick) and cut out your shapes. If you want to make these into Christmas ornaments, use a drinking straw to poke a hole in the top of each design.
Lay out your cookies on a baking sheet. These biscuits do spread and puff up, so leave at least 1/2 inch between them, ideally a whole inch. This also means that once they are baked, you will have to rewiden the holes for the hanging string.
Bake at 170-180 c for 7-9 minutes until lightly golden. If you bake them darker they will still be delicious, but they will lose the chewy consistency those biscuits are famous for.
Once cool, thread through ribbons/string if required and decorate with royal icing and non pareil, dip in dark chocolate or simply enjoy au naturel.
These biscuits pack a flavour wallop. You MUST include the pepper as it takes the flavour to another a level. Another word to the wise- I have tried substituting golden syrup for the honey, and it just isn’t as good. Make the effort for this treat, and grab a jar of the good stuff.
Making this treat makes me smile from start to finish. The delicious honey-lemon smell of the first step warms and soothes the senses, and the puffs of joyful spice as you mix the dough fill the air with festive cheer. Even decorating them has a huge place in my heart; traditionally you would find me with a tray of biscuits and icing equipment, in front of the television on Christmas Eve, watching the carols and singing to myself whilst given reindeer harnesses of icing and silver balls.
If you like this recipe, why not try the other european gingerbread recipes I shared last Christmas; Polish Pierniczki and Swedish Pepparkakor?