For the sixth day, we’re heading towards the north of Europe, to enjoy these tasty Danish honninghjerter. These are delicious little gingerbread hearts made with honey and spice, and coated in dark chocolate. From Copenhagen, with love!
This recipe is similar to Aachener Printen that I made recently – you make a syrup with honey and some brown sugar, pour into a flour/spice mixture, and leave it to sit for a few days so that the aromas can develop. Then add a little egg yolk and potash, roll out, cut, bake and – whoosh! – they puff up in the oven.
They honey is a key part of this recipe (more so than with the Printen), so what you use has a direct effect on the flavour. If you use something very light (such as acacia honey) the delicate flavour can get lost amidst the spices. However, if you go for something with a very pronounced aroma and flavour (such as thyme or chestnut honey) this will carry through to the cookies too. On balance, I would recommend a mixed floral honey that has a balanced flavour.
It is also traditional to let the mixture sit for at least seven days (or possibly longer!) at room temperature before baking. This allows the aroma and flavour of the spices to develop, so even if you’re in a hurry, it’s worth leaving it to sit for at least a couple of days. It is also said that this allows the enzymes in the honey to do something funky to the flour, but I’m not too sure that this actually means (!). But if you’re worried about leaving dough sitting on the kitchen worktop, don’t be – honey is antibacterial, so it won’t go bad, and in any event – we’re going to be baking these cookies in a hot oven.
Traditionally, these are glazed with icing or sugar syrup. However, I think the flavour goes stunningly well with dark chocolate to give what I think is one of the classic flavours of Christmas. The complexity of the spices and bitter chocolate works well with a glass of mulled wine fortified with rum.
To make honningjherter (makes around 30):
Stage 1: The dough
• 225g honey
• 25g brown sugar
• 225g plain flour
• 10g mixed spices
In a bowl, mix the flour and spices. Put the honey and sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves.
Carefully add the warm honey to the flour. Mix well with a spoon until smooth. The dough will be soft initially, but will start to become firmer as it cools.
Place the dough in a plastic container, cover, and leave at room temperature for at least two days. Seven is traditional!
Stage 2: baking the cookies
• Basic honey dough (above)
• 5g potash (1 teaspoon)
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1 egg yolk
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Lightly grease a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Dissolve the potash in the water. Combine with the egg yolk (if it gets dry, add a little more water). Add to the dough and mix until smooth. It doesn’t seem like much, but it turns from being very stiff to quite pliable. This is easiest if you use your hands.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 cm thickness. Use a heart-shaped cutter to form the biscuits. Place on the baking sheet, and bake for around 10 minutes until risen and brown. Turn the baking sheet half way through if needed. The cookies should be light brown, but not get dark at the edges.
The cookies will be quite hard just after baking, but will soften if left for a few days in an open tin (you can also cheat – place on a rack, and wave them over a pan of boiling water – the steam will help them soften).
During baking, the hearts will expand a lot. If you’ve used a smaller cookie cutter, you may want to trim them slightly with a sharp knife to get a better shape.
Stage 3: dipping the cookies in chocolate
• 450g dark chocolate
Melt the chocolate in a bowl. If you want to temper the chocolate for a glossy, shiny coating, see here or here.
Dip the hearts in the chocolate. Shake lightly to remove any excess, then leave in a rack or sheet of greaseproof paper to set.
Store the cookies in an airtight container.
To get Pottasche (potassium carbonate) in London, you can buy this from: (1) the German Deli at Borough Market (3 Park Street, London SE1 9AB), tel: 020 7378 0000. Tube: London Bridge; and (2) Scandinavian Kitchen in the city centre (61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP), tel: 020 7580 7161. Tube: Oxford Circus.
Worth making? I think these cookies are great. They take a little time just because you need to leave the mixture to sit for a few days, but the method is very simple and the taste is sensational. You can play around with the spices too according to your preferences.