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.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon mace
- 2 ounces toasted almonds (or almond meal)
- 2 ounces toasted hazelnuts (or hazelnut flour)
- ½ cup diced good quality candied lemon peel
- 3 ounces almond paste, crumbled
- 3 large whole eggs
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoon milk
- Combine flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl. Place almonds and hazelnuts (or nut flours) in the bowl of a food processor. If using whole nuts, pulse until finely chopped. Add lemon peel and almond paste and pulse until finely chopped. Add eggs and brown sugar, pulse until well mixed. Add dry ingredients and pulse until combines. Refrigerate dough in a covered container for 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat. Place oblaten wafers 2 inches apart. Top with a spoonful of dough and decorate with almonds if desired. Refrigerate remaining dough. Bake until golden brown, about 14 minutes, rotating sheet half way through if your oven has a hot spot. Let cool completely ON BAKING SHEET on a wire rack (about 30 minutes). Shape and bake remaining dough.
- Mix powdered sugar and milk together in a small bowl. Place cooled cookies on a wire rack and pour glaze over them, and let them set until glaze is dry. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
- Spread nuts on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, checking often.
I purchase a special Lebkuchen Spice Blend at my local German market that I use in this recipe. If you have a good German deli in your area you might ask if they make their own spice blend.