Naturally Sweet: German Honey Cookies

Naturally Sweet: German Honey Cookies

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Sherri Talbot  In the search for self-sufficient living, we discovered that one of the hardest things to avoid was store-bought white sugar. Especially when you have members of the household with a sweet tooth who love their carbs, baked goods are a staple. Two years ago, I began learning to replace sugar in my recipes with honey or maple syrup, and this allowed me to make slightly healthier baked goods and buy almost all of my ingredients from local farmers.    

Cooking with honey can be challenging in any recipe, however. The substitution ratio from sugar to honey is usually one-half to three-quarters cup of honey for every cup of sugar. However, for some recipes, that ratio can be different, and the added liquid often changes the consistency of the batter or dough. The variety of honey can also make a difference between the flavor and texture of the end result. Wildflower honey is the most commonly used, but even here, there will be differences based on the flower and the time of year. Spring honeys are often lighter in color, while the darker fall honeys will have a richer flavor with more nuances. I start recipe experimentations with wildflower honey due to the cheaper price point and less complex flavors.   

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I often try several different recipe versions before finally hitting on one that seems just right. German honey cookies were one of the more interesting learning curves. While there are many versions of the recipe, the one I found most frequently (excluding the version that requires a twelve-hour prep time!) involved the following ingredients:  

  • 1 cup white sugar  
  • 1 cup shortening  
  • 1 cup honey  
  • 2 eggs  
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract  
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda  
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour  
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger  

Despite their name, these cookies contain both honey and sugar — a cup of each. In an attempt to make a healthier cookie, I replaced the shortening with homemade butter and a quarter of the flour with local, whole-wheat pastry flour. Assuming the typical ratio for sugar replacement, this made for 1 3/4 cups of honey in the mix. However, in this recipe, that resulted in a thin, runny batter. The cookies themselves cooked off quicker than expected and, while not burned, were unpleasantly crunchy. Follow-up attempts to mix in more flour resulted in thicker cookies that did puff up but with a pasty, flat mouth feel. The cookies were edible, but no one really enjoyed them.  

Our first batch of cookies.

The cookies also called for ginger, but the teaspoon called for was completely lost in the sweetness. In the second batch, the ginger was increased to1 ½ teaspoons, and the honey was decreased to 1 ½ cups. The hope was that the cookies would not only be less honey-forward but that the ginger would be a good balance for the flavor. The texture of the cookie improved and several of my tasters said they could taste the ginger but still thought it should be more robust, and others said they couldn’t taste it at all.   

The final batch was prepared at 1 ½ times the size of the original batch, and this allowed for the use of duck eggs — which are larger and produce a fluffier baked good — rather than chicken eggs. The powdered ginger was increased to a tablespoon, and the honey level was dropped to 1 ¼ cups. The batch was then divided into two, with different types of honey used in each batch. The first half was made with orange flower honey, and the second was made with buckwheat honey.   

A batter comparison.

Since the honey quantity was decreased, it was hard to tell for sure, but the orange blossom honey seemed less intense. Like when using the wildflower honey, the cookies were still sweet but not so “in your face.” On its own, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two, with the rich, darker coloring and the layered flavors standing out from its more basic competition.   

Only the individual baker can decide if the flavor profile differences are worth the orange blossom’s higher price point. While I enjoyed it more when comparing the two side-by-side, the average person probably doesn’t look for subtlety in their cookies, and I would stick with the wildflower in the future. The remaining jar of orange blossom in my kitchen will be saved for special occasions.  

The buckwheat honey was a fascinating result. Despite being the only difference between the two bakes, the color difference between the orange blossom honey cookies and the buckwheat ones was intense. The buckwheat honey also made a tremendous difference in the flavor. Rather than being a subtle difference — like between the wildflower honey and the orange — the buckwheat almost made it into a completely different cookie. It was darker, thicker, and had an earthiness that the other batches lacked. Taste testers all stated that it was closer to a molasses cookie than a honey cookie, though with a more textured flavor.  

Buckwheat honey

This goes to show that cooking with honey is never dull. I am amazed by the texture, flavor, and consistency differences in every recipe depending on the honey I use. Of course, eventually, we hope our beehives will begin producing enough for all my baking projects, which will bring the experimenting to an end. In the meantime, we are having a great time enjoying all the differences of going naturally sweet.  

The Final Recipe:  

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ¼ cup honey
  • 2 duck eggs (or 3 chicken eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  1. In a saucepan over low heat, melt together butter and honey. Let cool.  
  2. Mix eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and ginger. Gradually add to cooled honey mixture.  
  3. Slowly add 4 cups of flour to mixture. Stir until well blended.   
  4. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden (about 12-15 minutes).  

SHERRI TALBOT is the co-owner and operator of Saffron and Honey Homestead in Windsor, Maine. She raises endangered, heritage breed livestock and hopes someday to make education and writing on conservation breeding her full-time job. Details can be found at or on Facebook at

Originally published in the Winter 2022/2023 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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