Etsy Kitchen Histories: Cookie Swap!

The original American Christmas cookie. Recipe here.

Need to  infuse a little new cookie blood into you holiday baking? Head over to Etsy, where I’ve instigated the Great Cookie Swap, encouraging users to share their favorite Christmas cookie recipes and the stories behind them. The post is infused with some of the best cookie recipes from across Etsy, and a little cookie history, too!

Christmas cookies have a long tradition in the United States. The New Amsterdam Dutch who settled along the Hudson River had an annual tradition of passing out New Year’s“koekje,” which means “little cake.” The first of the year was a time to visit your neighbors and share good tidings, and it would have been unthinkable to leave without taking a caraway and orange-flavored koekje for the road. Their Anglo neighbors repeated the word as “cookie,” and an American treat was born.

Go to Etsy and get inspired here!

The History Dish: Coffee Pretzels

 coffee_pretzelA coffee-cookie-pretzel.

The History

This is the last recipe I’ll be featuring from The Practical Cookbook; it’s a for a German staple with a “twist”: coffee pretzels.

The origin of pretzels are shrouded in myth.  Scholars believe that they were first baked around 610 AD in a monastery in Northern Italy or Southern France.  Their creation may have been associated with Lent; at the very least, there has long been a Christian association with them.  The classic pretzel shape has been said to represent arms crossed in prayer and the Holy Trinity.

Pretzels have long been considered an inseparable companion to beer in German tradition.  Pretzel making in Germany was, historically, very regional, featuring a variety of flavors, textures, and shapes.  In Bavaria, starting in the mid-19th century, pretzels were dipped in a lye and water bath before baking, which gave them a deep brown color and distinctive taste.  These Bavarian-style pretzels are the ones we’re most familair with in the United States, known simply as “soft pretzels.”  Swabian pretzels have thin arms and a fat belly; pretzels from Fanconia could be flavored with anise; while pretzels from other areas could be sprinkled with caraway, sesame, or poppy seeds

I decided to try this particular pretzel recipe because, honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The Recipe




Coffee Pretzels
adapted from From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (English Version)

I busted out my kitchen scale for this one.

8 ounces flour
1 ounce finely ground coffee
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
5 ounces white sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs
2 egg yolks and 2 egg whites, separated

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, coffee, salt, and baking powder.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together sugar, lemon zest, and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition.  With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients.  Scrape bowl and mix until evenly combined.

Flour a work surface (parchment, cutting board, non-stick mat).  Take dough about 1/2 cupful at a time, rolling it first in the flour, then gently rolling dough into long “snakes.”  Using fingers to apply pressure to dough, roll back and forth, and gently stretching it side to side.  When dough is about 1/2 in thick, cut into 4-5 inch length and fold into a traditional pretzel shape.  Place on a cookie sheet.

Wash pretzels with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

The Results

These turned out more like a coffee shortbread than a pretzel.  However, I am a poor judge of their flavor, because I hate coffee.  Tomorrow, I’ll distribute to my coworkers, and we’ll see what the verdict is.

Update (1/29): The results are in! The texture of these little cookies was generally praised, as was the sprinkled-sugar topping.  But opinions on the flavors were extremely divided: either tasters loved the strong coffee flavor, especially for dipping IN their morning coffees; other thought it was the most terrible taste they’d ever had, like chewing on coffee grounds.

The History Dish: Pepper Cakes, Aged Six Months

I love eating food that’s been sitting around half a year.

I’ve written before about the preservative power of black pepper–you can read it here.  Pepper’s antimicrobial properties might explain this recipe called “To Make Pepper Cakes That Will Keep Good In Ye House For a Quarter or Halfe a Year” from Martha Washington’s, “A Booke of Cookery,” which was given to her by her husband’s family on the occasion of her first marriage in 1749. It is believed that the text was transcribed in Virginia, sometime in the latter half of the 17th century.

Take treakle 4 pound, fine wheat flowre halfe a peck, beat ginger 2 ounces, corriander seeds 2 ounces, carraway & annyseeds of each an ounce, suckets slyced in small pieces a pritty quantity, powder of orring pills one ounce. worked all these into a paste, and let it ly 2 or 3 hours. after, make it up into what fashions you please in pritty large cakes about an intch and halfe thick at moste, or rather an intch will be thick enough. wash your cakes over with a little oyle and treacle mixt together before you set them into ye oven, then set them in after household bread. & thought they be hard baked, they will give againe, when you have occasion to use it slyce it & serve it up.

Allow me to offer some quick, 18th century translation services: Treakle is molasses and suckets are candied fruits: lemon or orange peels, or citron, another citrus fruit.  Culinary historian Karen Hess points out that this recipe is in fact for gingerbread, and reflects a holdover from the Middle Ages: a time when pepper was used the same as any other spice, in the sweet as well as the savory. Although this recipe doesn’t list pepper in the ingredients, Hess argues it may have been omitted accidentally.

I was curious if these “Pepper Cakes” really did taste better after six months.  This recipe is like a proto-fruitcake or lebkuchen.

I decided to add a quantity of pepper equal to the ginger. When working from historic recipes, it’s always helpful to translate the ingredients, scaling down the proportions to make a smaller recipe. I call this step “Make a plan!”:

1 pound (about 2 cups) Molasses
4 cups Flour
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Pepper
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Ginger
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Coriander
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Caraway
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Anise Seed
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Dried Orange Peel
1 cup candied fruit

To recreate this recipe, I used Hecker’s Unbleached Flour, which has been in production since 1843.  There are stone ground, 18th century flours available on-line, but I decided this was a decent substitute for my purposes.  To four cups of flour, I added my spices, starting with ½ ounce course ground Lampung pepper, the variety I suspect would have been available when this recipe was written.   ½ ounce is a surprisingly large amount of spice–about three tablespoons.  Ginger and coriander went in next, followed by caraway–I used both ground and whole caraway seeds to add texture.  I was unable to find anise seeds, so I substituted the similarly licorice-tasting fennel seeds, which I pounded with the dried orange peel in a makeshift mortar and pestle: a muddler and a measuring cup.

After the dry ingredients, I added the molasses, and stirred the bowl into a deep brown goo.  Only then did I realize I forgot the suckets. “Oh fuck it! The suckets!” I declared, to no one at all.  I had picked up a contained full of “fruit cake” type fruits; the typical holiday blends includes the 18th century favorites lemon peel, orange peel, and citron.  Fruitcake  is probably the only time we use citron in modern cooking; not many people even know it’s in there. Now you do.

I folded in a cup of suckets, realizing that this wasn’t the most accurate historic food recreation I had ever rendered. True culinary historians are probably reading this and gritting their teeth.   I covered the dough with a towel, and set it aside for a few hours, as the original recipe recommends.

When I returned, it had formed into a sticky, solid mass.  Here is where the original recipes gets vague.  The authoress says: “make it up into what fashions you please in pritty large cakes about an intch and halfe thick at moste, or rather an intch will be thick enough.”  Pritty large cakes?  How large is “pritty large”?  And in comparison to what?  Or “pritty” like lovely? Lovely cakes?

I floured a board, and rolled the dough to about an inch thick.  I cut out some preeeeeetty large cakes, about 4 ½ inches in diameter.  That’s preeeeetty large, right?  The cut cookies went on to a parchment lined baking sheet, and I brushed the top of each one with a mixture of a little molasses and almond oil.

The baking instructions read: “set them in after household bread.”  Bread bakes at around 450 degrees; so I preheated my oven to 450, and let the pepper cakes bake for 20 minutes.  Then, in an effort to simulate a wood-burning oven cooling as the fire goes out, I turned the oven off and left the cookies inside.

About an hour later the oven was completely cool, and I pulled the cookies out, glossy from their caramelized molasses top coat.  I nibbled on one, still slightly warm, and the flavor was so strong it was like a punch in the face.  It was, in essence, pure spices held together by a little flour and molasses.  I suspected that like a modern fruitcake (or their closer relation, lebkuchen), these cookies might taste better with age.  So I took the recipe title’s recommendation, and locked the cakes away in a tin, to be tasted in six months.

I first baked this recipe at the end of July, so the time has come.  I had to save the cookies from being thrown away TWICE by well-meaning roommates.  After being entombed for so long, the cookies looked and tasted like the 17th century: dark and spicy.  They weren’t revolting like they were in August, they were revolting in an entirely new way.  Chewy and stale, the candied fruits were unappealing.  The explosive flavors of the spices were interesting, and widely varied as I slowly chewed the cake.  But if this was good eating 300 years ago, I feel sad for the 1700s.

The History Dish: Pearlash, The First Chemical Leavening

Pearlash is powdery and slightly moist.

The History

If you were to scoop the ashes out of your fireplace and soak them in water, the resulting liquid would be full of lye.  Lye can be used to make three things: soap, gun powder, or chemical leavener.

A “leavener” is a substance that gives baked goods their lightness.  Today, we think nothing of adding a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder to our cakes and cookies.  But using chemicals to produce the carbon dioxide necessary to raise a cupcake is a relatively new idea.

Before chemicals, cooks would use yeast.  Not just in bread, but yeast was often added into cake batter, along with a helpful dose of beer dregs or wine.  The alternative was whipping eggs to add lightness, like in a sponge cake, although that particular recipe didn’t become popular until the end of the 19th century, after mechanized egg beaters were introduce.

Sometime in the 1780s an adventurous woman added potassium carbonate, or pearlash, to her dough.  I’m ignorant as to how pearlash was produced historically, but the idea of using a lye-based chemical  in cooking is an old one: everything from pretzels, to ramen, to hominy is processed with lye.  Pearlash, combined with an acid like sour milk or citrus, produces a chemical reaction with a carbon dioxide by-product.  Used in bakery batter, the result is little pockets of CO2 that makes baked goods textually light.  Pearlash was only in use for a short time period, about 1780-1840.  After that, Saleratus, which is chemically similar to baking soda, was introduced and more frequently used.

I was curious to try this product out and see if it actually worked.  I ordered a couple of ounces from Deborah Peterson’s Pantry, the best place for all your 18th century cooking needs.   I used it during my recent hearth cooking classes in a period appropriate recipe.

The Recipe

The recipe, for orange-caraway New Year’s Cakes, came from the cookbook-manuscript of Maria Lott Lefferts, a member of one of the founding families of Brooklyn.  The use of pearlash, plus a recipe for “Ohio Cake,” serves to date this book to about 1820.  It looks like this:

“New Year Cake

28 lbs of flour 10 lbs of Sugar 5 lbs of Butter

caraway seed and Orange peal”

This recipe doesn’t mention pearlash, but several of the other recipes in this book do.  I checked the first cookbook printed in American, Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery, for an idea of how much pearlash to add.  Here is the recipe I came up with:

New Years Cakes
Based on Marie Lott Leffert’s cookbook, c. 1820

1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 stick salted butter
3 teaspoons pearlash dissolved in 1/2 cup milk
4 cups all purpose flour
Zest and juice of one orange
1 tsp ground caraway and 1 tsp whole caraway

Whisk together flour, zest and caraway.  Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add orange juice and pearlash, then mix.  Slowly add flour; mixing until flour is incorporated.  Put in freezer one hour.  Break off small pieces and roll very thin; cut with a cookie cutter or knife.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Bake until cookies are slightly golden on the bottom, about 10 minutes.


Cookies leavened with pearlash come out of the oven.

The Results

I made the dough in advance and froze it, then dragged it to Brooklyn to be baked in a very period appropriately in a wood fire bake oven.

When the cookies came out of the oven, they had risen!  They gained as much height, and as much textural lightness, as a modern cookie made with baking powder.

But how did they taste?  The first bite contained the loveliness of orange and caraway (for a modern version of this recipe, I highly recommend using this recipe, and replacing the coriander with orange zest and caraway).  But after swallowing, a horrible, alkaline bitterness filled my mouth.  My body reacted accordingly: assuming that I had just been poisoned, I salivated  uncontrollably.

At first, I wondered if I hadn’t used too much pearlash.  But then something dawned on me:  the earliest recipes to use pearlash were gingerbread recipes.  Of the four recipes in Simmon’s cookbook, half of them were for gingerbread.  A highly spiced gingerbread probably did a lot to hide the taste of the bitter base chemical.

And that’s why I like historic gastronomy.  If I hadn’t actually baked with pearlash, and tasted it, I never would have made the gingerbread connection.  There’s something to be said for living history.

The History Dish: Lebkuchen with How-to Video!

I’ve got a talk coming up on Tuesday, April 2nd at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  It’s FREE and there will be cookies–Lebkuchen, to be precise. (rsvp HERE)

Lebkuchen are tradition German spice cookies and I made them because the talk on Tuesday will focus on the Tenement Museum’s new tour Shop Life, which features a recreation of an 1860s German beer hall and the tenement kitchen of the family who ran it.

If you would like to find out more about the talk, and see how lebkuchen are made (hint: kirschwasser, candied citron, 2 oz of cinnamon…and more) watch the video belo!  The video is introduced by Dr. Annie Polland, VP of Education at the Museum, and my bit starts at two minutes in.


From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (American Edition. Original German version was printed in the 1840s)

2 cups honey
1 1/3 pounds brown sugar
1/2 pound slivered almonds
1/2 pound candied citron (or candied lemon)
1/2 pound candied orange peel
Zest of two lemons
2 ounces ground cinnamon
1/4 ounce ground  cloves
2 teaspoons ground mace
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup kirschwasser
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 lbs flour

1. In a large saucepan, combine honey and brown sugar.  Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until it begins to bubble and rise to the top of the pan.  Add almonds and allow to cook for five minutes.

2. Remove from heat.  Add candied fruits, lemon zest and spices, stirring to combine after each addition.  Add kirschwasser, then baking powder, and mix to combine thoroughly.  Gradually add flour until the dough is thick but not crumbly.  You won’t use all of the flour.

3.  At this stage, the dough should still be slightly warm.  Either press dough into a shallow baking pan, or roll out on a heavily floured board 1/4 inch think.  Cut into long strips, about as wide as a biscotti, and place on a baking sheet.  Allow to sit out overnight.

4.  If you are baking the lebkuchen in a pan, bake for one hour at 350 degrees.  If you have rolled them thin, then 30 minutes at the same temperature will do.  Cut into sqaures immediately after they are removed from the oven.


Good lebkuchen are supposed to sit around for a couple months after you make them.  Even in modern recipes, there are often family traditions of letting them get stale before consumption.  These lebkuchen are not only great fresh, but perfect with a cup of coffee.

Origin of a Dish: Chocolate Chip Cookies

A chocolate chip cookie, baked from the original recipe.

During my recent experiments with chocolate, I got curious about the origins of the ultimate American chocolate dessert:  The Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Keep reading for the original recipe, which, in my opinion, is the perfect cookie.

Ruth Wakefield  is credited for the invention of the chocolate chip cookie at her Toll House Restaurant Whitman, Mass., “…a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking in the 1930s. The restaurant’s popularity was not just due to its home-cooked style meals; her policy was to give diners a whole extra helping of their entrées to take home with them and a serving of her homemade cookies for dessert.” (wikipedia)

The legend of the cookie’s creation goes like this: “Wakefield is said to have been making chocolate cookies and on running out of regular baker’s chocolate, substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Nestlé thinking that it would melt and mix into the batter. (wikipedia)”  I don’t believe this explanation.  Baker’s chocolate doesn’t magically melt into cookie dough, so if Wakefield knew how to work with baker’s chocolate, she would know that a semi-sweet Nestle bar would behave the same way. The legend makes her seem like a foolish little lady that made a silly mistake that magically turned into something wonderful.  I think she was actually an extremely talented cook with a brilliant idea.

Whatever the truth is, she sold her idea to Nestlé in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate (or so the story goes; I think she was probablly a smarter business woman than that).  Wakefield’s cookie recipe was subsequently printed on the back of all Nestle’s chocolate bars.  At first, Nestle included “a small chopping tool with the chocolate bars, but in 1939 they started selling the chocolate in chip (or morsel) form.” (wikipedia).

Chocolate chip cookies are The Official Cookie of the Commonwealth in Massachusetts:

Wakefield released a cookbook in 1936, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, which features the original chocolate chip cookie recipe as “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.”  The recipe, as well as the rest of the cookbook, can be found online here.  Below, here’s the same recipe from the April 26, 1940 Chicago Tribune (from the food timeline)

Here’s a new cookie that everybody loves because it is so delicious, so different and so easy to make. With each crisp bite you taste a delicious bit of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate and a crunch of rich walnut meat. A perfect combination. Here’s a proven recipe that never fails. Try it tomorrow.
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten whole
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon hot water
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts
2 Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Economy Bars (7 oz. ea.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Important: Cut the Nestle’s Semi-Sweet in pieces the size of a pea. Cream butter and add sugars and beaten egg. Dissolve soda in the hot water and mix alternately with the flour sifted with the salt. Lastly add the cholled nuts and the pieces of semisweet chocolate. Flavor with the vanilla and drip half teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes in a 375 degree F. oven. Makes 100 cookies. Every one will be surprised and delighted to find that the chocolate does not melt. Insist on Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate in the yellow Wrap, there is no substitute. This unusual recipe and many others can be found in Mrs. Ruth Wakefield’s Cook Book–“Toll House Tried and True Recipes,” on sale at all book stores.”

A modernized version of this recipe can be found on the Nestle website, here.

The biggest problem in recreating the original recipe is the chocolate; I felt that chopping up a candy bar was an important part of the original process.  But nowadays, Nestle only makes semi-sweet morsels, not bars.  Nestle still makes milk chocolate bars, which I later found at Economy Candy, but for my first attempt at the recipe I had to use a stack of Hershey’s milk chocolate bars.

It was much easier to cut up the chocolate bar that I anticipated.  The recipe specified the pieces should be “the size of a pea,” and I tried to remain faithful to that.  I used a large knife and the job was done in short order and with little effort.  The chopped chocolate smelled seductive and got me thinking: why are we restricting ourselves to the bags of chocolate chips in the baking aisle, when there is a bevvy of delicious, interesting chocolate bars available?  Hachez, a German company, makes dark chocolate bars infused with orange, blackberry, mango/chili, and strawberry/pepper.  Mast Brothers Chocolate, in Brooklyn, features a variety of carefully crafted dark chocolate bars of single origin cocoa beans, as well as bars sprinkled with sea salt and ground coffee.  Put that in your cookie dough and bake it.

The dough mixed quickly and easily; it was baked and in my mouth in less than an hour.  The first bite of warm, melty cookie made me think of s’mores and brought back a flood of childhood memories.  The cookies were agreed to be perfect by all that sampled them: the best ratio of chocolate to nuts to everything in between.  Everyone was shocked to learn it was the first chocolate chip cookie recipe and wondered why it was ever changed.

For more on chocolate cookies, check out this recipe for one of the first known uses of chocolate in baking.

Chocolate Delight: Chocolate Wafers

Chocolate Wafer cookies; from Gourmet, February 1950.

Faced with the task of consuming chocolate, I decided to reference a book that I had gotten for Christmas: The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941- 2009. It’s a cool anthology that reflects the changing tastes of the last 70 years.  I wanted a rich, chocolately cookie, and I found this recipe for Chocolate Wafers from Valentine’s Day, 1950:

“Chocolate Wafers: Good cooks were pleasing their menfolks with chocolate cakes back during the early settling of the New England colonies…Modern ways are upon us, atom bombs bedevil our dreams, standardization of taste haunts our mealtimes–but chocolate is still chocolate.”

Intense!  But also inaccurate–chocolate cake recipes didn’t start appearing until the later half of the 19th century.  Just FYI.

Chocolate Wafers

From Gourmet magazine, Feb 1950
As Reprinted in  The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941- 2009

3/4 cup Butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups Sugar
1 tb Rum Extract (I didn’t have any, I used rum)
1 Large Egg
1 1/2 cups Flour
3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt

1. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. Cream butter.  Add sugar gradually and cream together until light and fluffy.

3. Add egg and rum. Beat thoroughly

4. With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

5. When completely mixed, refrigerate overnight.

6. Roll out dough 1/8th of an inch thick; cut into fun shapes; bake in a 375 degree oven for 6-8 minutes.


This recipes mixes up very quickly, but the dough is hellish to work with.  It was somehow both dry and crumbly and extremely sticky.  It did allow me to use some of my vintage cookie cutters as well as a vulgar cutter my roommate gave me for Christmas.

The cookies are tasty.  I liked the texture best when they first came out of the oven: they were really crispy and flaky.  They got a little more dense as they cooled, but still very good.  If I was going to make an artisanal Oreo, I would use this recipe.

These cookies are getting shipped off to Washington DC for a friend’s very belated birthday present.  Not the vulgar ones, though.  The balls got a little burned.

Cookie Week: Cardamom Rosewater Cookies


This will be the last post for Cookie Week, which will hopefully also allow me to stop devouring cookies.  I’m on holiday vacation through New Years, so my consumption of holiday treats is slackening at a snail’s pace.

But if you are going to make one more sweet this season, I’d recommend  these cookies.  They taste beautiful. 

The original recipe is fairly complex.  Here:  

If anyone has an explanation for the grated boiled eggs yolks, I’d love to hear it.  Has anyone ever seen anything like it in a recipe before?  When my mother and I were doing some holiday baking, we experiemented with this technique in another cookie recipe and the result was revolting: dense, dry cookies with a distinctly hard-boiled taste (although roommate DK loved them).

But what I loved about this cookies recipe was the flavor combination: cardamom, rosewater, and brandy.  Definitely 19th century but daring to the modern pallette.  I decided to focus on the flavors of the recipe, not the technique, and retronovate a modern sugar cookie recipes to incoporate a taste of the past.

Cardamom Rosewater Cookies
Adapted from “Aunt Babette’s” Cook Book by “Aunt Babette”, c1889.
Modern recipe derived from Martha Stewart’s Cookies.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp brandy
Zest of one lemon
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk flour, baking soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl; set aside. Beat eggs with rosewater, brandy, and lemon zest; set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat sugars and butter at a medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs until mixed. Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula

3. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

4. Scoop dough into a Ziploc bag or sheet of plastic wrap. Form into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.

5. Either roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a baking sheet; or, roll and cut cookies.  On a generously floured surface, roll out 1/4 of the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. “Cut out with a fancy cake cutter,” and place on a baking sheet.  Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sanding sugar and/or chopped almonds.

6. Bake for 7 minutes, turning half-way through.


This cookie isn’t for everyone.  It won’t satisfy your chewy/chocolate/nutty holiday treat cravings.  But the flavor is unique and surprising: a refreshing palette cleanser after a month of heavy eating.

Cookie Week: Chocolate Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen are a highly spiced German cookie often associated with the holidays.  They’re often very regional and can variously contain fruits, nuts, alcohol, and spices; but are almost always made with honey.  They’re like a combination gingerbread and fruit cake: highly spiced, better with age, and something your grandmother loves to eat.

So I decided to give them a whirl this holiday season and cruised Feeding American for an interesting recipe:

This ‘kuchen recipe comes from the 1914 edition of The Neighborhood Cook Book; what I found intriguing was the use of cocoa, which I had never seen before.  In the end result, the cocoa doesn’t produce a chocolate flavor, but mellows the intensity of the rest of the spices.  The recipe below will make about 100 small cookies which will taste better if left for two weeks in a sealed container before consumption.  Everyone loves eating food that’s been sitting around for two weeks, right?

Chocolate Lebkuchen
From  The Neighborhood Cook Book Compiled by the Council Of Jewish Women, 1914.
Adapted for the modern kitchen by Karen Lohman

½ cup honey
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into cup and leveled
3 Tb. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. salt
½ cup almonds, finely chopped

1.   Preheat oven to 350°.  Adjust rack to middle position.  Line 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend over sides.

2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt.

3.   Using a heatproof, glass measuring cup, heat honey in microwave at 50% power for 1 minute.  Pour into bowl of electric mixer.

4.   Beat in brown sugar until well combined.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Scrape down bowl.

5.   Stir in ½ of the flour mixture and almonds just until combined. Do not over mix.  Stir in the rest of flour mixture.

6.   Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight. 

7.   Work with one quarter of the dough at a time.  Return unused portion to refrigerator.  With buttered hands pat dough into parchment lined baking pan (a floured spatula or the bottom of a drinking glass can help level the dough).

8.    Bake at 350° for 20 minutes, rotating pan once, until no indentation remains when touched.

9.   Allow lebkuchen to cool one minute in pan.  Lift the lebkuchen out of the pan using the overhanging parchment.  Carefully peel parchment off of the bottom of the lebkuchen.  Using a thin bladed, sharp knife, trim ¼ inch off all four sides of the lebkuchen.  Cut the lebkuchen into twenty-five 1½ inch by 1½ inch bars.  Brush with sugar glaze; top with almond slice while glaze is still warm.


Mix 1 cup granulated sugar and ½ cup water in a small saucepan.  Allow mixture to come to boil over medium heat.  Cover saucepan for 2 minutes to allow steam to wash sugar crystals from sides of pan.  Remove lid and continue to cook until the syrup reaches 230° on a candy thermometer.  Remove from heat and transfer to a heatproof, glass measuring cup.  Brush cookies with glaze.  If glaze recrystallizes after brushing cookies, reheat one minute on high in microwave, adding ½ tsp. of water, if necessary.

Events: New York Cookies

Traditional New York Cookies, stamped with historic Rooster and Kitty stamps.

I spent last Sunday morning at Old Stone House, stamping out cookies with the local kids of Park Slope.  The stamps are historic replicas from House on the Hill and are just. beautiful.  I was shocked at the level of detail the molds yielded; although I used them with 19th century cookie recipes, I think they would work well with most modern sugar cookie dough.

Stamped cookies are a tradition early Dutch settlers brought to New York (nee New Amsterdam).  Over the years, they became known as a New York tradition that transcended immigrant groups.  In the city, stamped cakes were passed out as treats on New Year’s Day, and as a memorial token at funerals.

Heating up the hearth at Old Stone House.  I lit a large fire and let it burn down to red and white hot coals.  Then, I pushed the coals to the back of the oven, and placed the cookies in the front.  To test the oven, I made Tollhouse break and bake cookies, and they baked exactly as long as they said they would on the package.  Voila!

A teeny helper dusts confectionar’s sugar in the mold.  The sugar stops the dough from sticking, and delivers a more detailed image.  Photo by Sharon Stadul

And then we stamp.  Photo by Sharon Stadul.

We made two cookie recipes on Sunday: one, a caraway and orange cookie, came from the book Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch by Peter G. Rose.  Man they were good – I want to experiment more with that recipe.  The second cookie was a nutmeg-cinnamon-rosewater cake called, appropriately, New York Cookies.  The recipes is from 1840 and I give it a B+.  You may like them, particularly with a cup of tea, but they taste too much like the 19th century for my liking.

New York Cookies

From Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches by Eliza Leslie, 1840.

1 cup cold water
1/2 pound sugar
2 ounces rosewater
3 pounds flour
1 nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pound butter
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, spices, and baking soda.
2. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it forms a course meal.
3. Combine rosewater, water and sugar. Add to flour mixture and knead, first in the bowl, then move  to a board, cloth or non-stick mat dusted with confectioner’s sugar.  Knead until the dough no longer crumbles, adding additional water if neccesary.
4. Cut into three pieces, setting aside two and rolling out the third.  This dough also freezes well if you don’t want to make the cookies immediately.
5. Roll the dough 1/2 in -3/4 of an inch thick.  Using a pastry brush, dust cookie mold with powdered sugar. Press cookie mold firmly and evenly on the dough.  Lift up mold, and cut out cookie using a spatula or a knife.
6. If possible, let the cookies sit out for an hour before baking.  Letting the cookies dry slightly also delivers a crisper image.
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes.