Start of autumn in September, the temperatur is still °C 32 in Northern Germany…and which is worse, in the German supermarkets you can already find the entire selection of traditional Christmas bakery & sweets like Christstollen, Lebkuchen, Spekulatius Cookies, Cinamon Stars, Domino Stones, Vanille Kipferl, Pepper Nuts, Marzipan Potatoes…and so on.
Okay, the only Xmas treat, which is still missing is the chocolate Santa Claus – proving that there is at least a tiny rest of scruple left.
Well,…In my view, “Nuremberger Lebkuchen” is the embodiment of German Christmas Bakery. It is sold in cans or boxes like treasure chests with medievel, traditional design.
Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen, is a traditional German baked Christmas treat, somewhat resembling gingerbread.
LEBKUCHEN – AN OLD GERMAN TRADITION TRACED BACK TO THE 12th CENTURY
The forerunner of today’s Lebkuchen was called the “honey cake”, and its history can be traced back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. They believed that honey, the only sweetener widely available to them, was a gift of the deities and had magical and healing powers. Honey cakes were also worn as a talisman in battle or as protection against evil spirits.
Nurembergs Emporer Castle.
Lebkuchen was invented by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm, and 1395 in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The latter is the most famous exporter today of the product known as Nürnberger Lebkuchen (Nuremberg Lebkuchen).
LEBKUCHEN – SWEET PROPAGANDA OF EMPORER FRIEDRICH III.
Local history in Nuremberg relates that emperor Friedrich III (the Holy Roman Emporer, 1415 – 1493) held a Reichstag there in 1487 and he invited the children of the city to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen bearing his printed portrait to 4.000 children.
Friedrich’s style of rulership was marked by hesitation and a sluggish pace of decision making. The emporer is credited with having the ability to sit out difficult political situations patiently… an old German tradition Angela Merkel seems to follow like her menthor Helmut Kohl before. It is not known if their sit and wait tactics include enjoying a few delicious Lebkuchen as a kind of sedative & happymaker, which makes them even more patient and thick-skinned.
Historically, and due to differences in the ingredients, Lebkuchen is also known as “honey cake” (Honigkuchen) or “pepper cake” (Pfefferkuchen).
Traditionally, the cookies are usually quite large and may be 11.5 cm (4.5 in) in diameter if round, and larger if rectangular.
Since 1808, a variety of Nürnberg Lebkuchen made without flour has been called Elisenlebkuchen. It is uncertain whether Elise was the daughter of a gingerbread baker or the wife of a margrave. Her name is associated with some of the Lebkuchen produced by members of the guild. Since 1996, Nürnberger Lebkuchen is a protected designation of origin, meaning that it must be produced within the boundaries of the city.
By the way, the texture and flavor of these Elisenlebkuchen is sublime. They keep for a long time and their flavor only gets better the longer they sit and the flavors can ripen. As you can see, the beautiful tins and boxes for Lebkuchen have a purpose, indeed.
Till today, Nuremberg gives home to one of the most popular Christmas Markets in Germany. Of course, there won´t be any market without a selection of the city`s finest Lebkuchen.
LEBKUCHEN – EMBARRASS DE RICHESSES (Dolor of Choice)
No, of course there is more than just one recipe for Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen namely range in taste from spicy to sweet and come in a variety of shapes with round being the most common. The ingredients usually include honey, spices such as aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice, nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit.
In Germany, types of Lebkuchen are distinguished by the kind of nuts used and their proportions. Salt of Hartshorn and potash are often used for raising the dough. Lebkuchen dough is usually placed on a thin wafer base called Oblate. This was an idea of the monks, who used unleavened communion wafer ingredients to prevent the dough from sticking. Typically, they are glazed or covered with very dark chocolate, but some are left uncoated.
LEBKUCHEN – A MESSENGER OF LOVE
Lebkuchen hearts are sold at fairs
Lebkuchen is usually soft, but a harder type of Lebkuchen is used to produce Lebkuchenherzen (“Lebkuchen hearts”), usually inscribed with icing, which are available at many German regional fairs and Christmas fairs. They are also sold as souvenirs at the Oktoberfest and are inscribed with affectionate, sarcastic or obscene messages.
Examples: “I love you soooo much”, “Thank you”, “Coupon for kisses”, “Darling”, “I like you very much”, “For My Sunshine”, “Sweetpea”, “Servus (= Hello)”, “O zapft iss” (= it is tapped = let`s party!), “Prince”, “Teddy Bear”, “My Hero”, “I do everything for you” and so on.
Lebkuchen is also used as giveaway, seasonal greeting or invitation in the business world. On the left hand side, you will find the invitation of a financial Institute to join their team on the Oktoberfest – also called “Wiesn”.
Another form is the “witch’s house” (Hexenhäusel or Hexenhäuschen), made popular because of the fairy tales about Hansel and Gretel.
The closest German equivalent of the gingerbread man is the Honigkuchenpferd (“honey cake horse”).
The Nuremberg type of “Lebkuchen” is also known as “Elisenlebkuchen” and must contain no less than 25 percent nuts and less than 10% wheat flour. The finest artisian lebkuchen bakeries in Nuremberg boast close to 40% nut content.
Honey cake Horse
Lebkuchen and honey cake horses, Lebkuchen stars & angels etc. together with apples are also often used for the very traditional decoration of German Christmas trees.
Many bakeries are treating their Lebkuchen and Elisenkuchen recipes strictly confidential.
An absolutely success-critical ingredient in Lebkuchen is in particular the Lebku-chengewürz (an absolutely magical blend of spices) that you can usually buy in German supermarkets. You cannot make Lebkuchen without any Lebkuchengewürz. Period. Abroad it might be a challenge to get it…a famous online shop might be of help. Otherwise, please find an alternative I found online below….self-made Lebkuchen spice.
NÜRNBERGER LEBKUCHEN – A RECIPE
½ c. softened butter (113 grams)
1 c. sugar (200 grams)
3 c. white flour (360 grams)
1 T. Lebkuchen spices (6 g)
2 T. cocoa powder (12 g)
1½ tsp. double acting baking powder
1 c. milk (225 ml)
1¾ c. ground almonds, ground hazelnuts or a combination of both (150 grams)
½ c. candied lemon peel, chopped (100 grams)
1 T. rum or orange liqueur
½ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. water
½ tsp. vanilla
1 – 2 T. rum or liqueur
½ c. powdered sugar
32 Oblaten (baking wafers) 3 inch size
½ c. raisins, soaked in rum and chopped
¼ c. shredded coconut
Note: If you do not buy premixed “Lebkuchen Gewürz” from a German store, you may mix your own, as follows…
2T. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground anise seed
Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per recipe.
Cream butter, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy.
Mix in flour, spices, cocoa powder and baking powder, alternating with milk.
Fold in nuts and lemon peel. Stir in rum. Stir in raisins and coconut if you are using them.
Drop about 3 tablespoons cookie dough into the center of each circle. (If you are using “Oblaten” drop the dough onto the wafer and smooth to the edges.)
When tray is full, use the back of the spoon to fill out circle, slightly mounding the dough towards the center.
Bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes.
Turn down oven to 350°F if cookies are browning too much.
Let cool for a few minutes, then remove to a cookie or cake rack to cool.
While they are still warm, make the glaze.
Place ½ c. sugar and ¼ c. water in a small saucepan on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes. Add vanilla and liqueur or rum. Sift powdered sugar over hot sugar syrup and stir.
Using a pastry brush, brush warm glaze over warm cookies. Let dry completely.
Dry glazed cookies for a day (to dry the glaze so it stays a bit crunchy) then store in an airtight container or freeze.
Note: If you are not using the “Oblaten”, draw 3-inch diameter circles on parchment paper using a cup or biscuit cutter as a template.