A Christmas Honey Cake Recipe for the Ages

Time to celebrate. A little music.

An old family recipe. You’re looking at my own 30 years of perfecting it.

Now, to assemble the chorus. Hazelnuts from the basement.

Here, a closer look:

The long narrow ones are best. They come from the tree I picked up as a sapling at the farmer’s market seven years ago. It’s outside right now, making next year’s crop. Shhh.

Now to crack them. Give yourself a good hour.  The images below show the first five minutes.

Then there’s the chopping. A little at a time. They roll. Two knives is best.

Another half hour.

And then the same for some slivered almonds. Start like so…

… and with a little bit of chopping, they will look like this.

Now get a heavy frying pan…

mix both kinds of nuts together with a bit of sugar …

… and stir over medium heat. Don’t stop stirring. You want the molten sugar to adhere to the nuts, not to make brittle toffee chunks as black as tar. Stir stir stir. You want the nuts lightly toasted. The kitchen now smells of hazelnuts and caramel. That’s not a bad thing. Breathe deep!

Now for the rest of the ingredients! Best to have them all ready. Flour…

… sugar…

…eggs. (This is enough for two batches. Never double a recipe. There are physical limitations, ie. you will a) break your best spoon and b) have a mess all over the counter and the floor at kneading time below. It’s a no-no. Easy does it.)

Deer Horn Salt.

OK, Ok, Ammonium Carbonate. Smelling salts. Makes it rise yet stay chewy. Absolutely essential. Don’t wait until Christmas to find it. There’s a run on this stuff. But when all the delis are empty, you can try a compounding pharmacy. Lemon peel.

You get to play with this.

Very much fun. This is for Rome.

Say, while you’re having fun. Some candied peel.

Go ahead, have a smell. This is the Holy Land.

Hey, it is an old Christian recipe from the foggy North of the world in which sugar was expensive and frowned on. Everyone was homesick for the Mediterranean, because Germany was the Mediterranean with a location deficit. For fun, you can try to make those sticky things smaller. Fly at ‘er!

And honey, of course, for the sweetness of the forest.

You want a very flavourful honey. Stuff off the supermarket shelf won’t do. My recipe, which was from 1946, called for Artificial Honey — all one could get in the ruins of Germany at that time, but if you fool around for 30 years you can get to Trudel’s Grandma’s recipe, and have some fun getting there.

The dark honey above is from 2016. The lighter honey at the left is this year’s. Both are fine. Now you can spice it up!!! Literally. Rummage around in the drawer to the left of the stove. Well, three drawers, but most come from the top one.

And now more fun! This is important. Both the fun and the labour of it. Assemble your tools.

Now for the nutmeg. Fresh ground is best. You want the full flavours.

And the cinnamon. Limber up that shoulder.

And so on. Pretty soon…

That’s nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, mace, allspice, cardamom and star anise. Smell deep. Nice, isn’t it! Now, kirsch. I prefer Kirsch Virginiana, choke cherry kirsch, but I don’t think the guys make it anymore. Just get the best stuff you can buy.

Yes, you can sample it just to make sure. By this time you’ve made such a mess in the kitchen that there’ll be no-one there to suggest maybe you don’t at that price. Go ahead. Change the music, even. Here’s an old record my homesick father listened to every Christmas.

It’ll do just fine, scratches and all. Finished sampling the kirsch? Ah, good. You can flour some pans.

And maybe sweep the floor? Because the sugar bag had a hole in it, didn’t it? Yes. Ready? Another sample? Everything OK? Good. Here we go. Break the eggs.

No shells? Good on ya.

Now add the sugar.  

Enjoying the moment? Fun isn’t it!

There’s no going back now! Beat until fluffy.

Add the shredded peel.

And the kirsch.

And the spices.

And the rest of the Holy Land.

And your toasted nut praline.

It kind of sticks doesn’t it. Ah, there it comes.

Now for the super magical alchemical bit. Shhhh, don’t tell your friends.

That’s right, the Hirschhornsalz! Mix that Ammonium Carbonate with some flour.

Stir it into the honey…

and into the dough …

…it goes!

Doesn’t look like cookies, does it. Kind of goopy, really. What can I say. You are dealing with the creation of the universe and all the starry night over Bethlehem here. Be brave of heart. The flour goes on your mixing board. I use a marble slab. Your goal is to make a bowl, wide and thin, with a nice lip on it. You’re going to pour your liquid dough into it very quickly, all of it, before it flows over the lip! This requires speed and a willingness to get sticky!

I can’t show you the pics here, because speed’s the thing. No time to grab the camera, but it’s simple. The dough is flowing over the lip of the flour, you scoop up the flour from below and fold it over the flow wherever it’s leaking out, and then keep lifting it from below, as it expands under your hands. The galaxies and star clusters are all expanding as you do this, filling the whole universe. Yes, you have the universe in your hands and are making it, and it weighs nothing. You are sculpting air, and then you’re done. You set it in a bowl …

And spoon it onto a tray. You don’t want to move it around much, so be generous.

Press it down with your fingers. Note the flour for dipping your fingers in. Try to do as little of that as possible, but it helps. Too much leaves flour on top of your creation. A little flour is ok. Don’t panic. It’ll be great. Just don’t slide it around in the pan more than a gentle centimetre or so. Then pat it down sorta flat. (You’re aiming for the country look, anyway, because the earth has hills and valleys, and so does time.)

And put it into the oven. I recommend convection so the bottom doesn’t burn by the time the top is done! In the meantime, mix some icing sugar with organic (very important, as it doesn’t have weird chemical tastes) lemon juice (and yes, you can squeeze your own, but you’ll need a lot)…

… Oh, I almost forgot. If you can’t get that silly freaking bottle open, you have a workshop, don’t you? That’s the stuff. A little Chinese tech does the trick.


Mix it until goopy, find a pastry brush, and then… clean up your mess!! What did you think? About forty minutes later (the recipe says half that, ha ha ha ha ha)…

Now you can work quickly. You brush on your lemon-sugar goop immediately. You need the heat to melt it. Use a soft brush. Don’t press to hard. Quick, quick, quick, quick.


And then wait ten minutes. It’ll still be hot, but slightly hardened. Now you can cut. If you rush this, you will make a royal mess of that icing. Don’t try it. Take it from me. I did. Years back. You want to make squares. Big or small is up to you, but these things are filling so I recommend small.

Then pry them up…

… and lay them out on paper to cool.

And your reward? The trimmings from the edges of the pan.

When cool, lay them in tins between layers of wax paper. They’ll keep for a good year, but you might have to hide them to keep them around that long! I especially enjoy them around the Christmas tree, when people come over, to give as gifts, and when pruning fruit trees in the snow and ice of January, February and March.

Plums maybe. In the light of the moon. It’s always good to look up once in awhile while pruning.

In 1945, my grandfather, a surgeon, was lying wounded in a hospital after the end of the Second World War, with severe spinal injuries from the shelling of his front-line hospital. Well, one thing led to another, and he married his physiotherapist, who had lost her husband near the end of the war. Trudel and Hans raised four of his seven children through their teen years, and passed on her family Lebkuchen recipe to us. She was a strong and elegant woman. Here she is on a visit in 1981.

Thanks, Trudel! Blessings to you, and love upon love.



11 replies »

  1. “…because Germany was the Mediterranean with a location deficit.” – so precious!
    A great recipe, your chopping technique is something I can adore but not do myself, I spontaniuously fell in love with the (cast-?)iron pan, wich looks more like a companion, and finally your beautiful mother to see – this is much more real Christmas feeling than elsewhere. Have a wonderful time.


    • Thanks! Those Italian villas in Görlitz, and Friederich’s palace in Gelnhausen inspired that Mediterrranean comment. Lots of fun. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour through my kitchen. Blessings to you.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Harold, greetings from Ontario and an old friend…and fellow baker. I loved this and agree that it’s ‘ much more real Christmas feeling’ than most of us encounter these days. I bake apple pies for my family, they expect & request them now. I also have a terrific scone recipe Cyril Hume gave me 30 years ago – give or take- that delights everyone I bake them for. Did some for my choir this week.
    Thanks for sharing this with us. Holiday greetings to you and your family,
    cheers, Louise Brown [ formerly Longo]


      • Well my preference is to use a mix of apples, depending on what is available. Spartans, galas, McIntosh, granny Smith are what we usually have here in Ontario. Mixing them gives a richer flavour, to me.

        Liked by 1 person

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