Do you have German roots? Reconnect with your German roots or try a new Christmas tradition by baking these traditional German Lebkuchen Cookies. They are sweet, spicy, delicious Christmas cookies.
German Lebkuchen Cookies
Even if you’re not German, you should try out German Lebkuchen Cookies. It’s rich past makes the eating like a history lesson in itself!
If you don’t know much about this cookie, let me fill you in.
What is known in Germany today as Lebkuchen is also known as Honigkuchen (honey cake), Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake), or as German gingerbread.
‘Kuchen’ means ‘cake,’ but there is dispute as to where the beginning ‘Leb’ came from. It is believed to have been one of these German words: Lebbe-, meaning “very sweet,” Laib-, meaning “loaf,” or Leben-, meaning “life.” All are appropriate, as the cookie is very bread-like and even cake-y. What Lebkuchen stemmed from were honey cakes, prized by ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians and believed by them to be infused with healing powers and capable of warding off evil spirits. They were even thought to bring good luck, and were worn on necklaces by those entering into battle.
The Lebkuchen as we know it today is said to have originated in Belgium, and then introduced to and improved by monks in 13th century Franconia, Germany. From there, it spread to all over Germany where it is still a traditional and delicious holiday treat.
Today, there are several different types of Lebkuchen, but the traditional ingredients still include:
- Honey, flour, sugar, and eggs
- Cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice
- Almonds, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts
- Candied lemon and orange peels
Sounds incredible, right!?
The different variations of Lebkuchen include the following:
To prevent the dough from sticking to the cookie pan, it was baked on “Oblaten,” or thin wafers.
As the highest quality of Oblaten Lebkuchen available, Elisen Lebkuchen must contain 25% of only almonds, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts, no other nut is used, and be no more than 10% flour. Now that’s a heavy cookie.
These are Lebkuchen that are baked in the city of Nürnberg. They are the best known because local history tells of Emperor Freidrich III handing out four thousand of these cookies to the children of Nuremberg all imprinted with his image. They are known for having a soft and light texture, and for having a picture drawn or imprinted.
Brown (Braune) Lebkuchen
These cookies are made with dough heavily infused with honey or syrup. After baking, the cookies are covered with a sugar glaze or chocolate.
White (Weisse) Lebkuchen
These cookies get their name from their very light color, which comes from the dough’s large amount of eggs or egg whites. They are then decorated with almonds, candied lemon, and/or orange peels.
My grandmother’s recipe most closely resembles the White Lebkuchen. She shapes hers into rectangles, loads them with chopped nuts, spices, and honey, lathers them in a glaze and places a whole almond in the center.
While these delectable cookies take a bit of work and time to make, they are easily worth it and I challenge you to try it! Give your kids a glance at their history, or try out another culture’s custom!
This recipe makes 5 dozen cookies.
Prep time: approx 20 min, cook time: 10 min, ready in 10 hours.
German White Lebkuchen Cookies Recipe:
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/3 cup diced candied citron
- 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- In a medium saucepan, stir the honey and molasses together. Bring the mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Stir in the brown sugar, egg, lemon juice and lemon zest. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the citron and hazelnuts. Cover dough and chill overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. Using a small amount of dough at a time, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into small rectangles and place them 1 inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheet.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until no imprint remains when touched lightly. Brush the icing over the cookies while they are still hot and quickly remove them to wire cooling racks. Store in airtight container with a cup of orange or apple for a few days to mellow.
To make the icing: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat to between 234 and 240 degrees F (112 to 116 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft ball that flattens when removed from the water and placed on a flat surface. Remove from heat and stir in the confectioners’ sugar. If icing becomes sugary while brushing cookies, re-heat slightly- adding a little water until crystals dissolve.
Have you had German Lebkuchen Cookies before? Which German Lebkuchen Cookies recipe do you think will be your favorite?