This is my sister’s age-old recipe for Basler Leckerli, a Swiss honey and spice cookie.
Traditionally made only at Christmas time, recipes are often hundreds of years old. Making them used to take hours: meticulously cutting almonds and chunks of candied citron and orange peel into small dice, then kneading the dough until your hands tell you to stop, rolling or patting the dough to a certain thickness, watching them turn golden in the oven, and cutting them into evenly sized bars.
These days, many ingredients come to us precut, and a stand mixer often takes the place of knowing hands. Even my sister uses a stand mixer these days. The aroma of honey, cloves, and cinnamon still wafts enticingly through the entire house. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!
500 grams honey
500 grams sugar
100 millilitres (1/3 cup) rum or Kirschwasser (NOT cherry brandy or liqueur)
1/2 teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate* (dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water)
3 large eggs
40 grams butter, melted
750 grams flour (all purpose white)
500 grams raw almonds (not blanched), roughly chopped
125 grams candied citron peel, finely diced
125 grams candied orange peel, finely diced
1 lemon, the grated rind of
2-3 teaspoons ground cloves
2-3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
*Aurora-brand Ammonium bicarbonate is available in major grocery stores.
Warm the honey until it is very liquid, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer, gradually add all other ingredients in the order in which they are given and knead with the dough hook until a dough has been formed. Alternatively, you can take the more traditional route and knead it by hand.
Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll out each half into a rectangle 3/4 cm thick, and place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350ºF for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden and puffy.
While still hot, brush quickly with sugar syrup (below) and cut into 5×5 cm squares. Cool the cookies and store in a tightly covered container for up to 3 weeks. If the cookies get hard after cooling, put them in a freezer bag and freeze them. Thawed portions will be soft.
In a small pan, combine 1 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar. Boil over moderately high heat, uncovered, until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.