Christmas Honey Cookies for the Honey-Tongued Saint

This Advent the feast of St. Ambrose falls on a Sunday (December 7) so is not celebrated in the liturgical calendar, but he is a great saint worth some focus this coming week. St. Ambrose is often called the "Honey-Tongued Doctor," for his preaching was said to be as sweet as flowing honey. There is a legend which says that when Ambrose was a baby, a swarm of bees settled on his mouth, indicating that he would be a great orator. The word for honey in Latin is ambrosia, a pun on his name. Of his many patronages he is the patron of bee keepers, bees, and candlemakers. He is often depicted with a beehive or bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom.

In looking around there are a variety of honey based cookies that are made during the Christmas season around the world.

Melomakarona are a traditional Greek cookie served at Christmas. These spice cookies are made with cinnamon and cloves, are soaked in a honey syrup, and sprinkled with sesame seeds, walnuts, and cinnamon.

Crispelles, the fried rosette cookies dipped in honey, are a standard Italian fare at Christmas.

Medianyky are Ukranian Christmas honey cookies.
Germany's soft ginger honey cakes lebkuchen (or pfefferkuchen) are possibly the first cookies/cake traditionally associated with Christmas. According to Christmas Cookie Traditions around the World: "Long before there was sugar, monks in the monastery kitchens near Nürnberg, Germany baked Lebkuchen cookies from honey that was brought to them by beekeepers in the nearby forest. Today, Nürnberger Lebkuchen (honey cookies) are still made around the holidays."

Polish Thumbprint Cookies literally have a thumbprint in the middle that is filled with apricot or other jam/preserves. These honey and almond Christmas cookies capture the usual flavor of this region.

And while not necessarily traditional holiday fare, the National Honey Board has lots of dessert recipes that would fit the bill for a honey sweetened treat this season.

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  1. This is such a wonderful post Mary! I was hoping to be able to make a Beehive cake (which I am working on a post for) but I may just settle for cookies instead! Thanks for all the great links! God Bless!

  2. We make honey Christmas cookies from a recipe from my grandmother. They are rolled and cut with cookie cutters - like you would do with sugar cookies, but they are soft and more cake-y. Dad always frosts them with a powdered sugar glaze, but I prefer icing that I can pipe into designs.

  3. I guess I should point out that they are not spiced - the only flavoring is the honey.

  4. +JMJ+

    Stacie, I've tried making honey cookies in the past and they've always ended up "soft and more cake-y," as you describe yours. I always despaired that I was doing something wrong because they weren't crunchy like normal cookies. Are you saying that "soft and cake-y" is pretty much what to expect from honey cookies?

    In case someone else can shed some light on my cookie problem, here is the latest recipe I tried:

    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup honey
    1/2 cup butter
    1 egg
    1 1/2 cup flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp cinnamon

    Then I spooned small lumps onto a cookie tray and baked them at 375 degrees for ten minutes or so.

    Anyway, as I said, the cookies came out more like biscuits. =(

    At first I was going to ask if anyone knew what I was doing wrongly. (Should I be fan baking? Is it the aluminium cookie tray? Was there too much flour? Etc.) Now I'm wondering if I actually got it right and didn't realise it! =P

  5. Thanks for the wonderful post! As a Catholic beekeeper, this is a great post.

    When baking with honey, remember a few things. You will likely need to decrease your liquids by about 1 Tbs. per cup of honey. Or you can add a Tbs. of flour per cup of honey. Even if your recipes call for baking powder, you should add at least 1/4 tsp. of baking SODA to help the cookies rise. Honey is naturally acidic, and the soda counteracts this. Remember to lower the temp of your oven by about 25 degrees, and watch carefully, as items made with honey brown quickly. Honey can be substituted for sugar at at 1:1 ratio, but most people find this to be pretty sweet, so figure 3/4 cup of honey = 1 cup sugar.

    Summer Frost

  6. Thank you Anonymous - that is great info for adapting recipes with honey!