Lebkuchen is German gingerbread and there are as many recipes for it as there are bakers who make it. My favorite, and the best known , is Nürnberger Lebkuchen, They are baked on oblaten (thin Communion-like wafers first used by monks in the 15th century so the cookies wouldn’t stick to the baking sheets), and they are known for their light, soft texture. There is a high ratio of nuts (almonds and hazelnuts) to flour and candied lemon peel and marzipan are essential ingredients.
When my mother and I went to Germany years ago to visit the Christmas markets in several German cities we discovered the lebkuchen of Nuremberg. Just inside the wall of the Old City, down the first street on the left, was a small bakery where we bought warm cookies every morning and munched on them as we made our way through the huge outdoor market. It was freezing cold but we were bundled up and warmed ourselves with mugs of hot Gluhwein and grilled sausages. It was in this great Christkindlmarkt that I first tasted gebrannte mandeln…burnt almonds…and bought the machines that I brought home and have been using in local farmers markets and holiday celebrations ever since.
I used 70mm oblaten wafers and a medium size (1-1/2″ diameter) ice cream scoop for these cookies. Just drop the dough onto the middle of the wafer and gently press in the almonds. Put them closer together than I did (almost touching) because they spread out during baking. As the dough bakes it spreads to the edge of the wafers, but not beyond. This is a very soft dough and I don’t recommend trying to make the cookies without the wafer base. I made the dough but didn’t have time to bake the cookies right then so refrigerated it for what turned out to be 2 days. They were better after the aging for some reason so I recommend adding that step if you have time to do so.
I make lebkuchen every year, have tried dozens of recipes, and this one is my favorite so far. It has the nutty flavor and light, chewy texture that I remember of the freshly baked cookies we bought in Nuremberg. I posted a previous recipe here if you are interested in seeing another way to make these wonderful German treats.
One of the many lebkuchen booths at the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.
First documentation of lebkuchen appears in the 11th century in handwritten letters from a monastery in Bavaria. In 1293, the first gingerbread baking guild was formed and by the 14th century it was being produced in many German cities. It is the first cookie associated with the Christmas season.
Lebkuchen is usually soft, but a harder type is used to produce large heart shaped cookies inscribed with icing that are available at German Christmas Markets and witch houses made popular in the fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel. Nurnberger Lebkuchen is a Protected Designation of Origin and must be produced within the boundaries of the city.
The Nurnberg Christkindlmarkt begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts until Christmas Eve.
This post is linked to FOODIE FRIDAY at Rattlebridge Farm.