It only started to feel like autumn in Fresno about two weeks ago, and we’ve still got 70 degree days, so it seems only fitting to wait for fall to celebrate Oktoberfest. Since Jan and I knew our attempts at authenticity would just end up as kitschy misrepresentations, we just decided to embrace the silliness and host an Oktoberfest party in November, which we dubbed “Noktoberfest.”
The theme was completed with the perfect outfits – I went to the Halloween store the day after Halloween to score 50 percent off on a costume simply named “Gretchen.” For Jan, we found him some plaid shorts and green suspenders, to which I sewed on ribbon with a heart and flowers pattern, along with a horizontally sewn thick green ribbon to complete the Lederhosen look. And some of my good sport friends joined in the chance to get another wearing out of a former halloween costume.
On the menu were sauerkraut potatoes and German sausages. To round out the meal with a good dessert, I decided on German chocolate cupcakes (which I learned weren’t actually from Germany, but instead popularized by a man from England named Sam German. Since we’d already given up on any authenticity with our outfits, this discovery only seemed to fit into the theme perfectly).
I also thought it would be fun activity to decorate our own Lebkuchen during the party, which are decorated gingerbread hearts that can be worn during Oktoberfest celebrations. (And yes, I am the nerd who printed out the Wikipedia article and placed it at the decorating table along with some StockFood.com pictures for inspiration.)
I’d never made gingerbread before, so I looked up recipes and settled on one from Paula Deen, to which I made a few modifications. Since I love the lemon flavored Swedish Anna’s Thins, I added some lemon zest to my batter to try and get a bit of that flavor. And since I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out, I did a test run of the cookie dough the weekend before, baking only about five cookies. They were great, so to save myself some time in the next week when I knew I’d be busy, I wrapped the dough in saran wrap, placed it in a zip top bag, and put it in the freezer.
The night before the party, when I was ready to make the cookies, I thawed the dough by placing in under a bowl of running water for about 20 minutes. On a heavily-floured board I used a rolling pin to roll out the cookies to about 1/8” thick. I used a heart shaped cookie cutter, and even though it was smaller than the pictures of Lebkuchen I’d seen online, I figured it would do. I took apart a Bic pen, rinsed the pen body, and used that to make two holes where the string would go in order for us to wear our cookies.
I tested out using my new Silpat silicone mat for the first time, baked the cookies for 10 minutes, and they came out perfectly, sliding off the mat with ease. After cooking on a wire rack, I set them aside for the next day.
When it came time for the party, we laid out our spread of German, English (the German Chocolate Cake Cupcakes), and Czech food. Our Czech additions were the open-faced sandwiches called chlebíčky (kleb-eech-keh), which we included not only because they’re a part of every holiday celebration in our family, but the Czech Republic does share a border with Germany, so considering all the other themed items, wasn’t too far of a stretch.
And even though I felt silly for asking my guests to decorate their own gingerbread jewelry only minutes after welcoming them into our home, it seemed that the Lebkuchen hearts were a hit. Suddenly, there was a plate of cookies with icing drying, just waiting to be worn. Later, I looked across the room to see one guest playfully (or hungrily?) taking a bite out of her date’s heart necklace. Everyone was joyful, and I had one guess to why: we had the best of both worlds, transported back to being a kid wearing candy necklaces and playing with our food, but with a cold beer in hand.