Croatian Honeybread Cookies (Licitars)

Croatian honeybread cookies recipe

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  • Total: 18 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 8 mins
  • Decorating: 3 hrs
  • Yield: 60 Licitars (60 servings)

Authentic recipes for licitar are closely-guarded secrets handed down from generation-to-generation. Some will argue that they differ from gingerbread in that honey, not molasses, is used, nor are there any of the spices associated with gingerbread. But some recipes, like this authentic one from Zagreb, don't even use honey.

Honeybread or gingerbread can be found throughout Europe. In Austria and Germany, they are known as lebkuchen or lebzelter from which came the Croatian name licitar. They're known as pernik in the Czech and Slovak republics, pierniczki in Poland, medenki in Bulgaria, medenjaki in Slovenia, and pryaniki in Russia. Croatian licitars originated in Northwest Croatia but have become a national symbol of the country and are highly sought souvenirs.

Licitars can be made into doll, bird, mushroom, horseshoe, wreath and horse shapes, among others. What sets them apart from other honeybreads or gingerbreads is their red, shiny glaze and highly-piped royal icing decorations. Some have embedded pieces of shiny metal that look like a mirror. Licitars adorn Croatian Christmas trees and are given away as a token of love to family members and lovers, who keep them forever and display them in their homes.
Don't be put off by the call for licitar yeast in this recipe. It's just another name for hartshorn or powdered baker's ammonia (ammonium bicarbonate). If this isn't readily available to you, substitute an equal amount of baking powder.

Ingredients

  • For the Dough
  • 2.2 pounds sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons licitar yeast (or baker's ammonia or baking powder)
  • 4.4 pounds all-purpose flour
  • For the Red Glaze:
  • 3/4 pound granulated sugar
  • 1 quart water
  • Optional: red food coloring
  • For the Decorative Icing
  • 1 recipe Royal Icing (thinned with a little water, if necessary)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Croatian honeybread cookies
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  2. In a medium saucepan, dissolve the sugar in water over low heat. Let cool to room temperature and preheat the oven to 350 F.

    Dissolve sugar in water
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the licitar yeast and flour.

    Licitar yeast in bowl
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Add the cooled sugar water and knead until smooth. Roll dough out on a lightly-floured surface or directly onto parchment-lined baking sheets and cut with copper ​licitar molds known as šteheri or regular cookie cutters into a heart and other traditional shapes.

    Roll out dough
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Make a hole in the top of each shape for hanging ribbon.

    Make a hole in top
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Remove scraps and bake 8 minutes or longer or until golden in color. Repeat with remaining dough.

    Remove scraps
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Place a string through the hole and dip each cookie into the red glaze and hang to dry completely.

    Dip cookie in red dye
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  8. Prepare the royal icing. Leave white or add food coloring of choice.

    Prepare icing
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  9. Pipe curlicues and other designs on the red-glazed licitars.

    Pipe cirlicues
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  10. Let harden completely and tun a thin length of red ribbon through the hole, if hanging up.

    Let harden
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck
  11. Serve and enjoy!

    Croatian honeybread cookies
    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck