Heirloom Recipes

A German Spice Cookie Recipe That Outlasted the Boyfriend It Came From

November  1, 2015

I got the recipe for Basler Leckerli from my college boyfriend. He was from a very small village in Germany, about 10 minutes outside of Waldshut-Tiengen in Southern Germany. We dated my junior year of college, and starting with that year's first snowfall, he began to wax on nonstop about all the holiday cookies he was missing out on here in America.

Trying to earn points for being an awesome girlfriend (and always open to any excuse that ended with me baking cookies), I told him that if he got recipes from his mom, we'd spend the day baking. He followed through on his end and we spent a weekend on the project.

Photo by James Ransom

First, we had to track down a few relatively obscure ingredients (we were in a small college town—no Whole Foods and only a Kroger to try to find our "exotic" marzipan and candied orange peel that wasn't bright green).

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Then we tackled the baking: We made four different kinds of German cookies (plus my mom's recipe for gingersnaps, which is what I was eternally nostalgic for). He taught be how to blanch almonds to remove their skins, squeezing the small end to pop them free. I taught him that wine and baking are the perfect complements. His roommates were so pleased with the plethora of cookies that they didn't mind being banned from their kitchen for 24 hours.

Of the four traditional cookies that we made, the Basler Leckerli were by far my favorite, and the only recipe from that session that I still have. The recipe is in German (my limited German is just enough to remember how to bake them each year), with both splatters and handwritten conversions of weights to measurements from the days before I had a kitchen scale.

Photo by James Ransom

I've made them almost every year since then around Christmas time, so about 7 years now. I know they were staples in my ex's family for years as well. I've been to Germany during Christmastime (my husband's sister lived there for a time) and was pleased to find all different versions of Basler Leckerli at the bakeries and Christmas markets.

Unfortunately, I don't know where my ex's mom got the recipe—it could have been handed down for generations, or simply from the back of a box of vanilla sugar! I'm almost curious enough to reach out and ask the history of it... but that's always a door better left unopened.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • catherine fuller
    catherine fuller
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  • Iolanthe
  • TheFritschKitchen
  • Enrica


catherine F. December 14, 2019
These cookies are from the 15th century and originated in Basel. The recipe must have spread all through the area (think chocolate chip recipe!). So it's not surprising that a woman in southern Germany gave the recipe for Basler Leckerli to the author, and that there's a bit of confusion about where they come from.
Deepali P. December 20, 2015
I have to say, it's a bit of a fail that this hasn't been edited to reflect the fact that BASLER means from Basel. It's great that you use your German ex's recipe, but at least a little note about the history of the cookie would be a nice attribution.
By the way, there is also a variation of this from Bern (not sure how it is made), and a version from Zurich that uses marzipan.
Iolanthe December 4, 2015
Enthusiastically posted the splash page for this Cookies of the World article on my Facebook page and immediately got a pissed-off response that Basler Leckerli are not from Southern Germany: they're from Basel Switzerland. To quote my friend, "It's in the *name* for goodness sake!"
TheFritschKitchen December 4, 2015
Yeah - I'm afraid that may happen quite a bit... I think your friend is right. In my defense, I said that the ex-boyfriend was from Southern Germany, not the recipe! :) The ex lived just across the border from Basel, his mom actually worked there.

If my German is any good, I think the name means Basel's little delicious...
Iolanthe December 4, 2015
Aw, no worries. She's from Switzerland, so it was personal for her. I've already moved on to drooling over the Israeli Tahini Shortbread.
Enrica December 11, 2015
I came here to complain about the same thing! Being Swiss I was delighted to see some representation, only to be shocked by the attribution to Germany. I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice.

Re the cookie name, you are right! Although Leckerli is also what we call treats, like dog treats are Hundeleckerli.