Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Cold weather, candle lights, buying presents, short days, and of course all the different things that are baked during Christmas time. In Denmark we have a variety of different things that are classically Danish, like pebernødder, brunkager, jødekager, klejner, finskbrød and my personal favorite: honningkagehjerter. That literally means “honey cake hearts”. The is my recipe for fermented Danish gingerbread hearts.
These gingerbread hearts are fermented. It helps develop that very special taste that, if not done this way, will be missing. The fermentation time can vary from one month and up to several months. If you’re in a pinch, give them as long as you can, but I wouldn’t recommend anything less than one week.
While it’s fermented, it’s not the same as sourdough, and it does not rely on captured yeast to leaven the cake.
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What is gingerbread?
Gingerbread can be a variety of different types of baked goods. All the way from soft, moist cakes to super crisp cookies.
They are commonly spiced with cloves. ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg and are sweetened with sugar, honey, or molasses.
There are many different versions of gingerbread in most European countries. The British have gingerbread men. The Norwegians, the Dutch and the Swedes have pepper cakes (pepperkaker, pepparkakor and peperkoek). In Jewish cuisine they have the honey cake, and in Switzerland they have biber which is a gingerbread cake with marzipan in the middle.
These hearts that I am describing here today are a very close cousin to the German lebkuchen, and although they make soft gingerbread in Germany, the German gingerbread hearts that are often sold at Oktoberfest are a hard and crunchy kind.
Danish varieties of gingerbread
In Denmark we have more than one gingerbread type of baked good.
Our brunkage, which is a classic Danish christmas cookie, is a type of gingerbread cookie.
We also have a common cake called Krydderkage meaning “spiced cake” which uses many of the same spices and have similar a taste profile.
Honey is a key ingredient in this gingerbread hearts recipe
Part of the specific taste of the Danish gingerbread hearts is honey. It brings a complex sweetness to the cake that works in tandem with the warm spices that are used to flavor the hearts.
You can use both a fluid or a crystalized kind of honey. The crystalized kind if very common here in Denmark.
If using crystalized honey, just gently heat the honey until it’s fluid before making the preferment.
Why the strange chemical leaveners in this gingerbread hearts recipe?
Potassium bicarbonate is just the one that has been used historically, and it can be substituted one to one with baking soda.
They salt of hartshorn is key in getting this right texture though. If you want to make these cakes, you will need to get this leavener.
Conclusion of this gingerbread hearts recipe
These gingerbread hearts are wonderful. Soft, spicy, ultra christmassy. The chocolate has a wonderful contrast in it’s bitterness compared to the intense sweetness from the baked heart.
These hearts are a delight and the best part is that they stay good for all of the Christmas month in the fridge. Whenever you want to serve them you can just cover them in chocolate and they are good to go.
Please share on this gingerbread hearts recipe on social media
This is my recipe for fermented Danish gingerbread hearts. I hope you will try to make them, because they are delicious, soft, spicy and, for me, the essence of Christmas baked goods.
If you make these and post them on Instagram, please tag me as @foodgeek.dk so I can see what you made. That would make me very happy.
Ad links! The links in the recipe for ingredients or tools are affiliate links, which means that I get commission if you purchase the product!
Fermented Gingerbread Hearts
Preferment (make a month in advance)
- 500 g honey
- 250 g all-purpose flour
- 300 g chocolate
- You need to make the preferment at least a month before you need to make the hearts.
- In a bowl, combine honey and all-purpose flour until homogenous.
- Put it in a sealable container and put it somewhere dark and cool for at least a month, and up to three.
Make the dough
- Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. If your oven has convection, you should turn it off. If you cannot turn set the heat to 160°C/320°F/Gas mark 3.
- Put the egg yolks in a small bowl and mix in the ammonium carbonate.
- Mix the potassium bicarbonate into 2 tablespoons of water.
- Add the egg mixture, the mixed water, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and extra all-purpose flour to the preferment.
- Knead the dough well. You can do it by hand or maschine. It takes from 5-7 minutes.
Bake the hearts
- Flour your kitchen counter liberally and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 4 mm. About 1/8th of an inch.
- Cut the hearts and put them on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Re-roll the dough and cut our more hearts. Continue until you have no dough left. This dough will make about 20 hearts with the cookie cutter that I am linking. That's about 3 cookie sheets worth.
- If there's any left over flour on the hearts, remove it using a pastry brush.
- Bake them for 8 to 10 minutes until there is no mark when you press your finger lightly into the heart. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
- They are hard as rocks right after they are baked. Put them in a container and cover it with a wet (but not dripping) dish towel and put them in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
Cover with chocolate
- Temper the chocolate and over the soft gingerbread hearts. Leave the chocolate to set and they are ready to be eaten.
I am crazy about food, cakes, snacks and everything in between. I love to do tons of experiments to find the best recipe, so that you don’t have to.