Honigkuchenwürfel (Honey Cake Squares)

Thanksgiving is finally over everywhere and now I can return to my cookies, this time – very christmasy ones. I’ve been willing to share this recipe for a while but it didn’t seem quite appropriate back then. This is a traditional German lebkuchen sandwiched with a moist and flavorful filling of apricot jam, raisins, candied orange peel, and toasted almonds. The dough is a variation of the well known in North America gingerbread, but the taste here is far more complex and interesting. The honey takes place over the molasses, and the spices differ, with the cardamom playing the first role. The cake is intensely spiced, sweet, moist, and although it’s very good freshly made; the flavor and texture are getting even better over time. So, it’s best to bake the lebkuchen right now and keep them until around Christmas. I baked the first trial batch about two weeks ago, and by this time the squares (well, a couple of survivors) have turned into the moist (not wet or soggy) delectable confection-like treat, so perfect with a cup of coffee or strong tea.

The recipe is adapted from an old charming book “Festive Baking – holiday classics in the Swiss, German, and Austrian traditions” by Sarah Kelly Iaia.

Makes about 4 dozens plus a lot of trimmings for a baker to snack.

For the best flavor, make the cookies several weeks in advance.

For the dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp ground anise
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ½ cup plus 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the filling:

  • 1 ¾ cup apricot jam
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped unblanched toasted almonds
  • 1 cup plumped raisins
  • ½ cup firmly packed diced mixed candied orange and/or lemon peel
  • About ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

For the glaze:

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • About ¼ cup fresh lemon

Make the dough:

Sift the flour onto one sheet of wax or parchment paper and the other dry ingredients onto another. In a large heavy saucepan heat the honey, sugar, and butter together over low heat, stirring all the time until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved, Do not allow the mixture to boil. It’s important to heat the fat, sugar, and honey sufficiently to allow the sugar to dissolve, but not let the mixture come to a boil as a certain amount of evaporation will occur, making the gingerbread brittle. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the sifted spices. Gradually, using a wooden spoon, beat in the sifted flour, adding as much as needed to make the dough, when stirred, pull away from the sides of the pan. You will need most of the amount given. Allow the dough to cool for 5 minutes. If the pan is still very hot, transfer the warm dough to a bowl. Beat in the lightly beaten egg and then knead the dough with your hands first in the pan or bowl, then briefly on a flat surface. If the dough is too sticky to handle, knead in a little more flour until it no longer sticks to your hands.

Divide the dough in two equal portions. And if not using immediately, wrap the dough (still slightly warm) in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until required. It can be left overnight.

Make the filling:

Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl, adding the lemon juice gradually until the mixture is spreadable consistency (it should be thick but spreadable).

Assemble, bake, and glaze:

When ready to proceed with baking, center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350F. On a large sheet of parchment paper, with a floured rolling pin, roll one portion of the dough into 13 x 8 ½-inch rectangle. Transfer the rolled dough right on the parchment onto a large rimmed baking sheet (a 13 x 18-inch half sheet pan works well). There should be at least a 1-inch rim left free on the baking sheet to allow for expansion.

Roll out the second piece the same size as the first and set aside for a moment.

Spread the filling evenly over the dough on the baking sheet, leaving a ½-inch rim around the edges. Reverse the other half of the dough quickly on top of the filling, peeling off the paper. Press the edges firmly together. You will cut the edges later, so, don’t worry too much about them being perfectly even. Using a toothpick, poke several tiny holes on the top for steam to escape. Bake the lebkuchen until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the cake, still on the baking sheet, onto a cooling rack.

While the cake is baking, make the icing. Put the icing sugar in a medium bowl. Gradually add the lemon juice whisking until the thin icing of pourable consistency forms. While the cake is still warm, pour the icing over it, using a pastry brush to cover it evenly. Work quickly. Allow the icing to set and the cake to cool at room temperature. The author recommends to leave it until the following day to dry, and then trim the outer edges and cut the cake into squares. But I impatiently decided to trim the edges after about 3 hours of cooling (I was anxious to try these out). I sliced the rest of the cake the next day as per the recommendation and found it was more difficult to cut (the icing shattered more). So, I would suggest to let the cake to cool completely (check the bottom of the pan) and then trim the edges and cut the cake into small squares. Or, if you have a large container for storing, don’t cut the cake until you actually need it. The cake will soften overtime and become a bit easier to slice.

Keep the squares in an air-tight container, between the sheets of parchment paper, for several weeks.

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24 Responses to “Honigkuchenwürfel (Honey Cake Squares)”

  1. Those squares look delightful! A wonderful recipe for Christmas…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. You know how much fun it was to read this? Let me tell you: read your description and already my tastebuds were activated…then I really focused on the flavors of each layers and then “bang!” it hit me…the cake in front of me was a picture and I’d have to make my own :(
    Gorgeous Vera! A true Northern European Christmas recipe!

  3. OH My !! these look so nice and ideal for Christmas. I ll surely try them and the best thing is I can make them now for Christmas Yeah !!!! the flavour combination looks amazing. Thanks for this nice recipe

  4. A charming and beautiful post, the cookies were worth waiting for!
    Congrats on the DMBLGIT award!

  5. Wow..I was just reading through the recipe and was very amazed at how much detail it went into. Thanks for posting it up. I love love gingerbread so i’m sure I’ll totally adore this cookie!! Beautiful job!!

  6. Cardamon again..?!! Vera, you’re killing me!
    Those square must be so flavorful!

  7. Oh I adore lebkuchen! Never seen it transformed like this though. The recipe sounds great – can’t wait to try it out!

  8. That sounds delicious. I have never heard or tried that. So, in order to taste it, I think I have to make it. I love the spices that go into it, and I just adore anything with orange rind in it for the holidays.

  9. Now that it’s the holidays, everywhere I turn someone is posting a new cookie recipe. This one is unique and quite pretty to look at.

  10. How delicious! Love this (for me) unusual filling, sounds more like you’d roll the filling into balls and serve those for Christmas.

  11. Oh how interesting! Isn’t it funny how it seems all of this cookie creativity gets unleashed at Christmas. Too bad it’s not all year long.

    These sound fabulous and I love the square bars (diamonds?) against that paper… what a fantastic visual.

  12. that’s one heck of a name! i think i’d like to learn german. moving on to more important things–awesome bars! anything that lasts three weeks or more and gets better and better is a winner through and through. :)

  13. These sound wonderful! They remind me of cookies I ate as a child growing up in a German household.

  14. You had me at apricot filling! Those look great, and it’s even better to know that you can make them ahead of time.

  15. OK, these look and sound absolutely delicious! I am already thinking about what cookie I won’t be baking so that I have time for to make these. This is my kind of cookie.

  16. These have such a fun name! It’s always so fascinating to me how some sweet treats get better and more moist with time. Your pictures get prettier and prettier every post, these look like lovely and delicious…a Christmas cookie I’ll need to try this year. :)

  17. I am new to this! Looks really good.

  18. WOW — those sound truly delicious and amazing! They look lovely too!

  19. Thank you all for your lovely comments! I’m glad you find the cookies delicious-looking. They are quite yummy, I think if you give them a try you won’t be disappointed.

  20. I can see why you were so eager to get back to these.
    Who doesn’t love Honey? Awesome!

  21. Oh Vera, you never seize to amaze me. These look wonderful, I really love spiced, deep flavored cookies! And the photos – gorgeous as always!

  22. These look and sound good!

  23. Graeme, Miri, Kevin, thank you!

  24. I made these last week and they are delicious. I am curious how much better they can become :). They are so good as they are already. Thanks a lot for the detailed and correct recipe. Happy holiday season!

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