The Octoberfest is about drinking large amounts of beer. But it began as a celebration of love. The Bavarian festival originated in Munich, Germany, in 1810 as a celebration of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. But as is the case with many wedding celebrations, it became an opportunity to drink heavily. However, symbols of love still abound — in the form of gingerbread hearts.
At Oktoberfest, men often buy their sweethearts a heart-shaped gingerbread cookie with some sort of sweet message written in white icing. The hearts are big business. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemein reports that the confectionery company Zuckersucht bakes 50,000 “wiesn hearts” daily for Oktoberfest. (Locals often refer to Oktoberfest as wiesn.)
Octoberfest gingerbread hearts recipe
Lebkuchenherzen, or gingerbread hearts, are popular in German outdoor markets such as Christmas markets, Oktoberfest, Kirmes or Schutzenfest. They usually hang from ribbons and carry cute sayings in the center. Traditionally they are given to friends, sweethearts or your family to express your feelings.
When you bake them at home and decorate them, you can say exactly what you like.
These cookies will last for months in a tin or well-wrapped and stored at room temperature.
7 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup honey
5/8 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mix
5 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon single- or double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Steps to Make It
Make the Dough
- Bring the butter, honey, sugar, cocoa powder and gingerbread spice mix to a boil in a medium-size saucepan.
- Boil for several minutes until the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat and cool slightly.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt into a bowl.
- Make a depression in the bowl and add the egg, then pour the honey mixture over the flour and mix on low speed until a ball of dough can be formed.
- The ball of dough might still be shaggy but will form a smooth dough as it cools down, so do not add extra flour.
- Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and put in a safe place at room temperature for 4 to 48 hours.(This dough should rest overnight before baking for best results.)
Bake the Cookies
- Heat the oven to 350 F.
- Roll out half the dough to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured board.
- Use a large, heart-shaped cookie cutter or your own template to cut out large, heart shaped cookies.
- If you want to hang these hearts from a ribbon, create one or two holes about 3/4-inch below the rim of the cookie before you bake it.
- Repeat with the rest of cookie dough. This dough does not re-roll well, so take care to roll it into the right size the first time.
- Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are set in the middle and lightly browned on the bottom. Bake the trimmed scraps to use for practice decorating.
- Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet. They will harden as they cool. Although they are edible, this dough is most often used to make decorative cookies that are hung on the wall or around the recipient’s neck and are seldom eaten.
- Use tinted royal icing to decorate the cookies. You only need about half of the recipe, but you will want to practice decorating with your baked scraps, and you might want to use several colors, so make the whole batch.
- Tint some of the icing in a separate bowl using normal food coloring. if the icing is not completely tinted you can create swirls of lighter and darker colors as you pipe it.
- Place the icing in a decorator bag with a leaf tip attached to make the border. Use a writing tip for the words. Find out more about filling and using pastry bags here.
- Decorate as you like. It is traditional to write cute sayings in the center and give the cookies to people you like.