Nürnberger Lebkuchen

These traditional Bavarian Lebkuchen are easy to make and perfect for Christmas!

Preparation time: 40 minutesCooking time: 20 minutes
Makes: Approx. 15 biscuitsDifficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

For the Lebkuchengewurz:

  • 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon of crushed cloves
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon of ground pepper
  • ⅙ teaspoon of ground aniseed
  • ⅙ teaspoon of ground coriander

For the Lebkuchen:

  • 100g/3½oz/½ cup of butter
  • 150g/5oz/just under ½ cup of honey
  • 100g/3½oz/½ cup of caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 250ml/2½dl/just under ½ pint/1 cup of milk
  • 250g/10½oz/2¾ cups of plain flour`
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g/5oz/1¼ cups of ground hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds
  • 40g/1½oz/½ cup of candied citrus peel

For decoration:

  • 125g/4½oz/1 cup of icing sugar
  • 200g/7oz/1¼ cups of chocolate
  • A teaspoon of flavourless oil (sunflower oil, groundnut oil etc.)
  • Whole almonds

Make it vegan: use a plant based margarine instead of butter, and use golden syrup (or a vegan honey like Honea) instead of honey. Use 3 tablespoons of aquafaba instead of the egg, and use soya, oat or almond milk instead of dairy milk. Finally, use a vegan chocolate brand for decoration.

Special Equipment

  • Two large baking trays
  • Baking paper
  • A pencil
  • A 7cm cup, ramekin or cookie cutter
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A wooden spoon
  • A sieve
  • A couple of small bowls

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.
  2. Line the baking trays with sheets of baking paper. Set a ramekin, cup or cookie cutter that’s about 7cm in diameter on a sheet of baking paper and draw around it with a pencil. Repeat, making sure you leave a few centimetres between each circle, until you have about 15 circles. (Depending on the size of your baking trays/oven, you may need to prepare a few extra baking sheets and cook the Lebkuchen in batches.)
  3. Make the Lebkuchengewurz by combining the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, aniseed and coriander together in a small bowl. If any of the spices aren’t pre-ground, use a pestle and mortar to crush them before mixing them with the others.
  4. Using a wooden spoon, cream the butter, sugar and honey together in a large mixing bowl before folding in the milk and egg.
  5. Sieve the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the mixing bowl and stir them into the butter mixture.
  6. Add the ground nuts, a pinch of salt and four or five teaspoons of the Lebkuchengewurz to the bowl and stir everything together thoroughly. Finally, fold in the citrus peel.
  7. Drop a few tablespoons of Lebkuchen mixture onto each of the circles on the baking paper. Use a spoon to flatten and round out each circle.
  8. Bake the Lebkuchen in the oven for about twenty minutes, or until they’re lightly browned but not burnt. Turn halfway through cooking. Remove the Lebkuchen from the oven and leave them to cool.
  9. Prepare some chocolate glaze and icing to decorate the Lebkuchen with while they’re cooling. Make the glaze by popping the chocolate and flavourless oil in a small microwaveable bowl and microwaving them in 30 second bursts, stirring in between each one, until the chocolate is melted. Don’t microwave the chocolate for more than 30 seconds at a time because it burns very easily! Leave the glaze for five minutes to cool before using.
  10. To make the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and add about 20ml of water. Stir thoroughly to combine. Add more water if you want the icing to be runny and more icing sugar if you’d like it to be quite thick.
  11. When the chocolate glaze and icing are prepared, drop one or two large tablespoons of the glaze onto one of the Lebkuchen and use a spoon to smooth it over the whole biscuit. (If it’s really runny and runs off the Lebkuchen, wait a further five to ten minutes until the chocolate has firmed up a little before trying again.) Continue until you have a few chocolate covered Lebkuchen. Repeat the process with the icing, spooning it onto the remaining undecorated Lebkuchen and smoothing it over with a spoon. Then decorate some of the iced Lebkuchen with a couple of whole almonds. (I used glacé cherries!)
  12. Guten apetit!

Tips

  • For more flavoursome biscuits, add some raisins, rum and/or desiccated coconut to the Lebkuchen mixture.
  • You can easily make enough Lebkuchengewurz for several batches of Lebkuchen at once. To do so, prepare six or seven times as much ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, aniseed and coriander as needed for this recipe. Mix the spices together, pour them into a clean jar and keep it sealed. When ready, give the jar a good shake before spooning out four or five teaspoons of the Lebkuchengewurz and stirring it into your Lebkuchen mixture.
  • If you like, try spooning the Lebkuchen mixture onto some round wafers before baking instead of spreading it straight onto the baking paper. Many recipes call for this: it’s a tradition that can be traced back to the mediaeval monastic origins of Lebkuchen: monks and nuns would use communion wafers as a base for Lebkuchen to prevent the biscuits from sticking.

Background

Pronunciation: [ˈleːpˌku:xn] (leep-kuu-chen)

Home: Southern Germany

Relatives: Piernik (Poland), Pryanik (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus), Pepperkaker (Norway), Pain d’Epices (France), Malt Loaf, Parkin (UK)

History

The honey cakes eaten by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks were the ancient predecessors of modern gingerbreads like Lebkuchen. These cakes were made in an age when honey was the only readily available sweetener. Even as the mediaeval sugar trade expanded into Europe many bakers continued to sweeten cakes with honey, which was significantly cheaper and more accessible. But as trade routes from Asia opened up they began to use spices like pepper, and later ginger, and varieties of spiced honey cake became popular cross Europe as a result. These include the German Lebkuchen (‘sweet cake’), Pepperkuchen (‘pepper cake’) and Honigkuchen (‘honey cake’), Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Pryanik (which derives from the Old Russian word for ‘peppery’), Polish Piernik (also ‘peppery’), Norwegian Pepperkaker (‘pepper cake’) and French Pain d’Epices (‘spice bread.’)

Lebkuchen was invented by monks in Franconia (today part of Bavaria, in central-southern Germany) in the 13th century. It was being made in Ulm (in modern day Baden-Württemberg, south-west Germany) by the late 1200s and in Nürnberg (Nuremberg, in modern day Bavaria) by the late 14th century.

Like Toruń in Poland, Nuremberg was perfectly situated for gingerbread production. The city was on the crossroads of several important trade routes, and was surrounded by the Reichswald, an imperial forest known as the ‘Emperor’s Bee Garden.’ The bakers of Nuremberg thus had access to copious amounts of spices and honey for making Lebkuchen, and the city’s merchants were able to easily export Nürnberger Lebkuchen to neighbouring regions.

Christkindlesmarkt, Nuremberg
Roland Berger, Christkindlesmarkt nuernberg, 2008
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christkindlesmarkt_nuernberg.jpg [accessed 18/09/2020] https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Nuremberg’s association with Lebkuchen was solidified when Friedrich III held a Reichstag in the city in 1487. According to local history the emperor invited four thousand of Nuremberg’s children to a special event, where he presented each of them with gifts of Lebkuchen bearing his portrait. Lebkuchen was taken so seriously in Nuremberg that only members of the city’s baker’s guild had permission to make it, and in the 1500s, the city made a pact with Toruń, agreeing to exchange gingerbread secrets and recipes. Today, Nürnberger Lebkuchen has a protected designation of origin, and can only be commercially produced within city limits.

There are many varieties of Lebkuchen, including Elisenlebkuchen (flourless Lebkuchen), Lebkuchenherzen (heart shaped gingerbread), Lebkuchenhaus (gingerbread house) and Hexenhaus (gingerbread witch’s cottage.)

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