A recipe from Sven Christ for homemade gingerbread hearts and roasted almonds.
Slowly melt the butter in a pan and mix the honey and the sugar in, stirring well. Allow to cool a little, then pour the entire mixture into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
Knead with a dough hook for five minutes, then shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in cling film and leave it to rest in the fridge for two hours.
After that, roll it to a thickness of around 2 cm on a floured surface; place your template on top and cut out the hearts. (The number of hearts you’ll get depends on the size of the template you use.)
Carefully transfer the hearts to a baking tray lined with baking parchment, and use a small stick or cookie cutter to make a hole at the place you want to thread a ribbon through (it’s not possible to make the hole after the hearts have been baked). Bake at 160° in a fan oven, for 20 to
25 minutes. Remove from the tray while still warm and leave to cool. While the hearts are cooling, mix the egg white with the icing sugar, add colour if you wish, and put the mixture into an icing bag. Decorate the hearts however you like and leave the icing to set.
First lay down some baking parchment – if you forget to do this, the almonds will clump together in the pan and you don’t want that! Put all the ingredients into a non-stick pan, bring to the boil and immediately reduce to a medium heat; leave the almonds to cook until the water has evaporated off and the almonds are covered with a powdery coating.
The next step needs concentration and a wooden spoon at the ready, as you wait for the sugar to caramelise and become liquid. When that happens, use the wooden spoon to move the almonds so they all get coated in caramel. Once the almonds all have an even, glossy coating, scatter them over the baking parchment. Tip: sprinkle over a few flakes of sea salt at the end for an even more delicious flavour
There was a time when Oktoberfest was just a few booths and the paths between them were muddy tracks. Back then, when the Wiesn was chaotic, adventurous and rambunctious, you had to be able to offer your sweetheart something to entice them to come with you and enjoy a beer from your brand new Keferloher stein. This must have been when the lebkuchen (gingerbread) heart was conceived. What an unbeatable souvenir of the Wiesn, enabling the holder to proclaim: “Look where I've been!” before the t-shirt was invented.
You can eat the hearts of course, but it’s usually only children under ten who do so. Most of the hearts are destined, after Oktoberfest, to spending the rest of their existence on a wardrobe door, hanging from a door handle or in the kitchen.
The gingerbread heart is the oldest and most successful Oktoberfest souvenir that does not actually refer directly to the Wiesn. There’s no “I was at Oktoberfest” emblazoned on it, but instead a personalised message. Anyone who managed to lead their sweetheart through the mire for those early Oktoberfests was obliged to reward them for their troubles with candy floss, roasted almonds and a lebkuchen heart – but what should the message say? “In love”; “It’s complicated”; or “Miserable git”?
The inscriptions used to be a simple matter: “Best dad”; “Sweetie”; and “Wiesn 1956” – but these days people are always searching out the latest neologisms. So a hunky guy who might previously have gone for “fescher Bua” now swaggers through the fairground bearing the label “Babo”: a slang term for “boss”. You can eat the hearts of course, but it’s usually only children under ten who do so. Most of the hearts are destined, after Oktoberfest, to spending the rest of their existence on a wardrobe door, hanging from a door handle or in the kitchen. Some people may have no problem throwing the hearts away, but in most cases they really are honest tokens of love.
For eating – or rather, for snacking – the next stop after buying a gingerbread heart is always the roasted almonds stall, so you can munch on the warm, crunchy treats as you ride the Ferris wheel. Almonds are the popular choice these days, having always been considered discreetly more luxurious than hazelnuts – and anyway, there’s no one left in Bavaria who harvests hazelnuts, though they also can be roasted and taste delicious, though a little stronger. Many stalls also offer cashews and macadamia nuts, but I find them too greasy; and having tried roasted Brazil nuts once I don’t plan to do so again!
Almonds are the popular choice these days, having always been considered discreetly more luxurious than hazelnuts – and anyway, there’s no one left in Bavaria who harvests hazelnuts, though they also can be roasted and taste delicious, though a little stronger.
For us, it’s always 250 g of almonds, which we snack on as we move among the stalls. There’s always another hand in the bag when you reach in to grab some, and it’s always a great joy to discover you still have half a bag of almonds in your pocket as you’re on the tram on your way home.
It’s important to leave behind your gingerbread heart and your bag of almonds when you’re going on certain rides: the Teufelsrad (Devil’s Wheel) and the Toboggan, or any that are even crazier. After all, lebkuchen hearts are fragile biscuits, and the caramel fragments from smashed almonds will get all over your shirt, blouse, hair and handbag.