A Taste of Aachen's Heritage: Bake Your Own Irresistible Aachener Printen Cookies!
Aachener Printen is a traditional German baked good that originates from the city of Aachen. This sweet treat is a type of gingerbread, often referred to as “Aachener Gingerbread”, and is renowned for its deliciously complex and spicy flavor. The standing joke is that Aachener Printen are so hard that the bakers have a standing contract with the city’s dentists! Aachener Printen – Gingerbread Cookies are characteristically hard because they’re a very low-moisture cookie: They contain no eggs, fat, milk, virtually no water, and contain three types of sugar which caramelize during baking.
The origins of Aachener Printen date back to the 15th century, when spice traders would bring exotic spices and sweeteners from the Far East to the city of Aachen. These ingredients, such as honey, cinnamon, and anise, were used to create a new type of bread that was both sweet and spicy. Over time, this bread evolved into what is now known as Aachener Printen. Aachen is so proud of these cookies that they have become safeguarded with a DOP designation (Protected Designation of Origin), which means that commercially sold Aachener Printen can only be made in the city of Aachen. It’s estimated that Aachen’s bakers produce more than 4,500 tons of Printen every year. That’s 9 million pounds!
How to Make Aachener Printen
To make Aachener Printen, a dough is first prepared from flour, honey, sugar, spices, and a variety of other ingredients depending on the recipe. This dough is then rolled out and cut into various shapes, ranging from simple rectangles to intricate designs. The dough is then baked until it becomes crisp and firm. The resulting product is a hard, brittle biscuit that has a distinct, spicy flavor. The combination of spices gives Aachener Printen its unique taste, which is both sweet and warm. In fact, the spice blend used in Aachener Printen is a closely guarded secret, with each baker having their own unique recipe.
Aachener Printen - A beloved Holiday Treat
Aachener Printen has become a beloved holiday tradition in Germany, and is often given as a gift during the Christmas season. It can be enjoyed on its own, or with a cup of coffee or tea. Some people even dip it in chocolate for an extra special treat.
If you’re interested in trying Aachener Printen, please use my recipe below. However, be warned that it can be a bit tricky to make, as the dough is quite firm and can be difficult to roll out. It’s also important to use high-quality ingredients, as the flavor of the spices is key to the final product.
Special Ingredients for Aachener Printen - Gingerbread Cookies:
- What is Sugar Beet Syrup: Printen are made with an ingredient known in German as Zuckerrübensirup. That translates to “sugar beet syrup”. For whatever reason you cannot find sugar beet syrup in the U.S.. Consequently virtually all recipes in the U.S. call for dark corn syrup as a substitute, which is absolutely not the same thing. You can find German imported Grafschafter Sugar Beet Syrup on Amazon.
- Brown Rock Sugar: Another ingredient called for in traditional Aachener Printen is brauner Kandiszucker and is often referred to as German or Belgian brown rock sugar. It should not be confused with “amber rock sugar” which is not as sweet or flavorful. Brown rock sugar is brown cane sugar that has been melted down and crystallized into semi-translucent chunks. It is commonly used as a sweetener for tea and has a deep, rich flavor with hints of caramel. Don’t be tempted to omit this traditional ingredient. The inclusion of brown rock sugar in the Printen (which are smashed before adding them) means that each bite results in a delightful explosion of tiny sugar crystals. You can find Brown Rock Sugar on Amazon as well.
- What is Potash and Baker’s Ammonia: Authentic Aachener Printen – Gingerbread Cookies recipes call for a combination of what’s called Hirschhornsalz (baker’s ammonia) and Pottasche (potash). That’s ammonium carbonate and potassium carbonate, both of which were used as leavening agents before baking powder and baking soda came along. Baking soda is a suitable substitute for potash. However, while baking powder is what’s commonly called for a substitute for baker’s ammonia, it will not yield the same results.
Baker’s ammonia has a very unique effect on the baked goods. As the Printen are baking, the tiny crystals in the baker’s ammonia break down and leave behind tiny air pockets in the crumb, creating a honey-combed, porous crumb that gives otherwise rock hard baked goods a more delicate, crispier and crunchier texture. You will not get this effect with baking powder. You can find Baker’s Ammonia and Potash on Amazon as well.
- Candied Orange Peel: Here is an easy recipe for homemade candied orange peel. Of course you can use store bought, but this homemade version is more flavorful and easy to prepare.
1. First, prep the oranges by trimming off the tops and bottoms. Then use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel the oranges from top to bottom, into 2-4 inch long segments. Once you’ve peeled all of the oranges, cut the pieces into thinner ¼ inch strips.
2. Next, place the orange peel segments into a medium saucepot and turn the heat on to medium or medium-low. Add water, sugar, and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. As soon as the water begins to simmer, set a timer for 20 minutes.
3. Add the remaining ½ cup sugar to a bowl and set aside, and set out a drying rack with a piece of wax paper or parchment paper under it.
4. Once the orange peels have simmered for 20 minutes, stir in the vanilla extract. Turn off the heat and let the peels rest in the sugar syrup for several minutes. Then use tongs to move the orange peels to the cooling rack. Allow the orange peels to rest for at least 15 minutes to dry and cool.
5. Toss the cooled peels in the sugar to coat. Let the peels dry completely at room temperature. Store the Candied Orange Peels in an airtight container, and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
The Different Types of Aachener Printen:
- Chocolate Covered Printen (Schokoladenprinten):
The classic Aachener Printen is a simple yet flavorful gingerbread cookie. With a slightly hard and crunchy texture, these cookies are made with a mixture of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and aniseed.Chocolate covered Printen are often dipped in dark chocolate or any other chocolate, adding a layer of sweetness and richness to the spicy undertones.
Kräuterprinten are similar to plain Printen, but with a twist – the addition of aromatic herbs like fennel, caraway, and coriander. This unique blend of spices and herbs creates a complex flavor profile that sets Kräuterprinten apart from other gingerbread cookies.
- Almond Printen (Mandelprinten):
Mandelprinten are a delightful variation of the chocolate covered printen featuring chopped almonds or almond slivers embedded into the chocolate. The crunchy almonds add a pleasant contrast to the chewy texture of the cookie, making it an irresistible treat for nut lovers.Almond Printen
Aachen Gingerbread Cookies - Aachener Printen
- 1 Rolling Pin
- 1 Cookie Sheet
- 14 oz Sugar Beet Syrup see blog post
- 2 tbsp. Water
- 3 oz Light Brown Sugar
- 4.4 oz Brown Rock Sugar see blog post
- 4 cups All-Purpose Flour
- ½ oz Candied Orange Peel finely chopped, see blog post
- 1 tsp. Baking Soda
- 1 tsp. Baker's Ammonia see blog post
- 2 tsp. Ground Anise Seed
- 1 tsp. Ground Coriander
- 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
- ½ tsp. Ground All Spice
- ½ tsp. Ground Cloves
- ½ tsp. Ground Cardamom
- ½ tsp. Ground Nutmeg
- Heat up the Sugar Beet Syrup with ⅔ of the water in a pot.14 oz Sugar Beet Syrup, 2 tbsp. Water
- Pound and crush the rock sugar into tiny crystals4.4 oz Brown Rock Sugar
- Take the pot off the heat and add the flour, light brown sugar, crushed rock sugar, baking soda, candied orange peel and all the spices.3 oz Light Brown Sugar, 4 cups All-Purpose Flour, ½ oz Candied Orange Peel, 1 tsp. Baking Soda, 2 tsp. Ground Anise Seed, 1 tsp. Ground Coriander, 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon, ½ tsp. Ground All Spice, ½ tsp. Ground Cloves, ½ tsp. Ground Cardamom, ½ tsp. Ground Nutmeg
- Dissolve the baker's ammonia in the remaining water and add to the dough.1 tsp. Baker's Ammonia
- Using the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients until fully combined. The dough will be soft and pliable but not sticky. If the dough is very sticky add a little more flour. If the dough is too dry, add a tiny bit of water.If you don't have a stand mixer you can stir and then knead this by hand.
- Roll the dough out onto a non-stick surface (I use plastic wrap) to about 1/4 inch or 5mm thickness. If the dough is too sticky knead in a little more flour.
- Cut the dough into small rectangles. Place the Printen on a greased and splashed with water cookie sheet.
- Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit and bake the Printen for 18 minutes until lightly browned.
- You can decorate the Printen as you like, for example you can coat or dip them in chocolate after they're baked and fully cooled. You can add one or more whole blanched almonds while the chocolate is still wet or cover them in sliced or slivered almonds. Or you can glaze the Printen. For the glaze you can either brush the cookies with a little milk before baking them to create a sheen or you can bake the cookies first and brush them while they're still hot with a glaze made from half sugar beet syrup/half water and let them sit to dry.
- Once cooled completely, store them in an airtight container. Properly stored in an airtight container in a cool place, Aachener Printen will keep for several months and their flavor only gets better with time.