Monday, December 7, 2009

Honig Kuchen (Honey Cookies)

My friend Dorothy is a wonderful baker and I have gleaned many recipes from her over the years. This is one of them. My MIL always made honey cookies as did both of my grandmothers and it is a Christmas tradition in many Mennonite and German homes.
There are several tips you need to remember.
  1. These cookies are best baked a month or so before Christmas so that the flavours have time to ripen.
  2. My MIL used a boiled icing to coat her cookies but I didn't always have success in getting the icing to dry thoroughly. Dorothy's simpler recipe dries quickly and tastes just as good.
  3. You can easily halve this recipe. The whole recipe makes 14 doz. cookies. (see end of recipe for storage tips)
  4. The orange zest is my addition and is optional.

  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. baking ammonia* dissolved in 3 Tbsp. boiling water
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground star anise
  • 1/2- 1 tsp. salt
  • 2-3 tsp. orange zest (opt.)
  • 7 cups flour

* This is a leavening agent and can be purchased in health food stores or some pharmacies. Please see note in the comments that follow this recipe for more information on baking ammonia.

Icing: (Mix the following recipe twice - once for each 7 doz. cookies)

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  1. Beat together, butter, honey, brown sugar, eggs and sour cream in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add soda, dissolved ammonia, zest and spices.
  3. Add flour and mix thoroughly. Dough will be fairly soft and will start to pull away from the spoon.
  4. Refrigerate overnight. (I have left it in the fridge for several days)
  5. Roll into balls and place on cookie sheets. (I use a small spring-style ice cream scoop to make them an even size and then roll each ball smooth between my hands)
  6. Bake at 375ยบ for about 10 minutes.
  7. Cool completely.
  8. Beat egg whites until foamy and add icing sugar in 3 parts beating very well after each addition. Continue to beat until icing holds a soft peak.
  9. Place 7 doz. cookies in a very large bowl.
  10. Pour icing over and gently fold icing over cookies with a silicone spatula until cookies are almost completely covered. (My MIL did this with her hands. Messy but effective!)
  11. If making a full batchof cookies, make the second batch of icing and repeat with the second 7 doz.
  12. Here's where the kids can help - take cookies out of the bowl one at a time, making sure each cookie is covered completely in icing and lay out on waxed paper.
  13. When cookies have completely dried on one side, turn them upside down and let the bottoms dry completely.
  14. These cookies need to ripen so do not store them in the freezer. I line ice cream buckets with waxed paper and layer the cookies with squares of waxed paper in between each layer. Cover tightly and store in a cool place.


  1. Ha! We have a DANISH recipe, quite different than this, which requires bakers ammonia (hartshound salt?) and also requires 'ripening'. I love it. I've been having a terrible time finding baker's ammonia lately though. It used to be at all the pharmacies. This recipe looks great. I do so appreciate all of you and your Sunday thoughts too.

  2. Hello! Love your website! Is alum the same thing? It says "ammonium" on the jar. I found some of that, made by the Sauer company, in a specialty store.

  3. Sounds so festive and I think I've eaten something like this before but never made it! Thanks!

  4. I meant to include a note about the baking ammonia and forgot. Thank you all for asking.
    Many of our our grandmothers' recipes call for baking ammonia as it was the precursor to baking powder and baking soda. It is actually "Ammonium bicarbonate". Please do not confuse it with ammonia - that is poisonous. Alum is something completely different.
    You can find out more about it here: (you may have to cut and paste this as the link seems not to have worked)

    I understand you can buy it at a health food store or pharmacy. We used to buy it at a grocery store owned by Mennonites but as it shut down a year or two ago, I will also have to find a new source for it.

    1. In Winnipeg you can buy baking ammonia at The Marketplace in McIvor Mall on Henderson Hwy. They sell ground anise, too.
      Karin S., Winnipeg

  5. i am so glad that you posted this recipe for us all to have.
    my mom makes a similar cookie and that boiled icing is so finicky.
    yes baking amonia, or hischen salz is used.
    in our neck of the woods any european food shop sells it.
    such a good cookie, it is worth trying.

  6. The correct German term is actually "Hirschhornsalz" - supplied in my part of the country by European food stores. Thanks for the detailed recipe - my Mom always makes these for Christmas.

  7. I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful recipes. I have tried so many of them and they are always a hit.I hope that you all have a blessed Christmas.

  8. Oh thank you! My Mom and Oma made these and I don't have their recipe. I will be baking up a storm this weekend! They would make half of them with a bit of plum jam inside, and shaped like a football instead of round. that way we knew the round were plain and the footballs were filled. good memories.

  9. I wanted to say that I started using meringue powder to make my icing ..and it works perfectly without any mess or fuss.
    I haven't made these cookies yet this year. .I really should.. .they are so yummy.

  10. Oh, yes, I remember those. I can smell them. Way to go.
    Are you stopping by my way soon?

  11. After reading the recipe yesterday I went out to get anise. Found it as seed only so now I will grind it and start baking. works as a link.
    I need some Tiger Tiger cookies to satisfy my taste buds so might try tinting the icing orange for the visual appeal.

    Love your site. I check it daily.

  12. Just a note to Agnes. I don't think it will make a huge difference in this recipe but Anise seed is not the same as Star Anise. Star anise is in the shape of a star with a large seed in each arm of the star. I bought whole star Anise from a Victorian Epicure home party but the ground star annise is a little harder to find. I think I bought mine in a specialty spice store.

  13. Didn't think it was the same but it still smells like licorice, the flavoring I am craving. I remember Mom using seed whereas Grandma used whole star anise. It will just be one my "experiments." Whether cooking or sewing I rarely follow directions but go off on my own tangent.

  14. You may want to add the butter with the sugar and honey, it's a little hard to add it in at the point when it's listed.

  15. When I reviewed the recipe I didn't see the butter mentioned in the method at all. I am sorry and will correct it. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  16. For any Kelowna, BC followers of this blog that need baking ammonia you can get it at Illichman's or Valoroso Foods as well.

    1. Awesome, I've googling like crazy, trying to find where I can buy some.

  17. Just finished mixing these and will bake them tomorrow while watching the Grey Cup!
    In Abbotsford I found ammonia at Neufeld Farms and ground anise in the East Indian section at Safeway.

  18. We have been making this German Honey Cake for over 75 years. Our recipe is very easy and does not require all the ingredients that yours does, we use Potassium Carbonate instead of bakers ammonia. When we were little my mother would hide these cookies from us kids under her bed to ripen. But it seemed that we always found them and each one of us would sneak a cookie at least once a week before Christmas. What happy memories.l Thanks for sharing your recipe and traditions with us.


  19. These sound like my Oma's Lebkuchen :)

  20. I have been making these and Pfefferkuchen every year since my Omi died in 1975, Christmas wouldn't be the same without them, but it is getting harder and harder to get both Hirschhornsalz and Pottasche in England. I have had to order from Germany for the last 5-6 years, though I did manage to get some Hirschhornsalz on Ebay last year.

  21. In case anyone is looking for baker's ammonia, you might consider checking the King Arthur Flour website:
    On the site, click "shop", and then in the search box: "baker's ammonia"


  22. I made these last Christmas and they were delicious! I have a question though. I made them in advance and stored them as directed to ripen. However, the icing got sticky in places. Even though some of them didn't look as pretty as others, they all tasted wonderful. I'm just wondering if you have a suggestion about how to prevent this from happening this year. They were completely cool when iced and were kept in a dark, room-temperature place. Could it be that living on the coast there was still some moisture that got into the closed container? Thanks for your help. I can't wait to eat these again!

  23. My only suggestion would be to place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer of cookies. that's what I do. I store mine in the garage in Ice Cream pails.

    1. Thanks. I did separate them with waxed paper but perhaps a cooler place is the key. I'll try the garage. It's a bit further to travel to sneak a cookie, but I'll manage.

  24. My only suggestion would be to place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer of cookies. that's what I do. I store mine in the garage in Ice Cream pails.