Elisenlebkuchen (German Gingerbread Cookies)

I’d never even heard of lebkuchen until 3 months ago when I took a detour from Prague to Nuremberg (Nürnberg) to visit a friend, on my way to Berlin.  My friend’s husband, who is German, told me that Nuremberg is famous for lebkuchen, and suggested I buy some to take home.  So after a hearty meal of Nürnberger sausages and sauerkraut, we went into Lebkuchen Schmidt, where they had various lebkuchen and other confections.  It didn’t take me long to decide what to buy, however, because a bunch of colourful little tins in the shape of suitcases, displayed on the counter behind the salesperson, soon caught my attention.  I’m a total sucker for cute, miniature things!  I decided right away that that was what I wanted, even before I knew what was actually inside or how much it cost!  It turned out to be a tin of 2 rectangular pieces of chocolate covered lebkuchen, which my friend said is actually her favourite kind.  So I paid something like 10 Euros for one and left the store with lebkuchen and my lovely souvenir tin!

I managed to wait a few days until I got home before trying the lebkuchen.  I think I was expecting a hard gingerbread cookie, but it was so moist and delicious!  Definitely a different kind of gingerbread than what most of us are used to!

Lebkuchen are especially popular during this time of the year, when this traditional Christmas staple can be found all over Germany.  I especially love Christmas baking, and with the holidays coming up, I was all excited to try making something new this year!

I learned that there are different types of lebkuchen, based on the kinds of nuts used and the proportion of flour.  The classic ones from Nuremberg are  technically known as Elisenlebkuchen, which contain less than 10% flour and at least 25% nuts.  I found a couple of what seemed like authentic recipes, and decided to give this one a try.  They turned out beautifully!  The only thing was that they were quite light in colour – I’m not quite sure why.  Maybe it’s because the recipe I used called for white sugar (I’ve seen brown sugar used in other recipes).  I guess I’ll have to try out other recipes and make more lebkuchen!

But the main thing was that they were yummy!  I took these to a Christmas party, and the guests really enjoyed them.  They were trying to figure out the spices used and asked me what these tasty cookies were because they’d never tasted anything quite like these before!

Prior to making these, I was shopping for panettone molds and came across packets of ready-made lebkuchen spice, so I didn’t actually blend the spices myself! I also found large rectangular wafer paper, and assumed they must be similar to Oblaten wafers, which are small round pieces of edible wafer paper.

I just traced around the rim of a glass that was 7.5 cm in diameter and cut out the circles.

If you do try making these Elisenlebkuchen, let me know how they turn out.  As this was my first time making these, I’d be happy to get any tips!

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas with lots of good food and a fantastic New Year!

(Adapted from this original recipe)

ELISENLEBKUCHEN (Makes 10-12 cookies)

Ingredients:

For the Elisenlebkuchen:

2 eggs
100g sugar
160g candied citrus peel (toss in about 3 tbsp of flour to prevent them sticking together, sift to remove excess flour, then chop very finely)
100g ground almonds
100g ground hazelnuts
4 tsp Lebkuchen spice blend (store-bought or make your own, recipe below)
12 Oblaten wafers
2 to 3 Tbsp water
125g icing sugar
1 handful blanched almonds, optional (sliced in half lengthwise)

For the Lebkuchen spice blend:

20g ground cinnamon
1 whole star anise, ground
2g ground ginger
6 cloves, ground
2g ground mace
2g ground coriander
2g ground cardamom

Method:

1. If making your own lebkuchen spice blend, mix together all the ingredients and set aside.

2. In a bowl, beat the sugar and the eggs until tripled in volume. Stir in the citrus peel, ground nuts, and spice blend.  Mix well until combined.  Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to rest overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 320° F (160° C), line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper, and place the Oblaten on the tray. Using an ice cream scoop, place a scoop of the dough in the center of each Oblaten.

4. Using the back of a wet spoon, knife, or spatula, flatten the dough evenly all around the Oblaten and until the very edge of the wafer (the dough will barely spread in the oven), trying to ensure that the dough is a little bit thicker in the centre of the Oblaten and becomes thinner closer to the edge of the Oblaten.   If you want, lightly press 3 almond halves onto the top of each cookie.  Arrange them with the tips towards the centre and spaced evenly apart (as per the original recipe, I actually stuck them on at the end, after glazing, but I found that they did not stay on very well, and had to brush more glaze over the almonds to help them stick on).

5. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, or until the cookies are set but still soft in the middle and have barely started to brown around the edges. Leave them on the tray to cool down until they reach room temperature.

6. While they’re are cooling,  prepare the glaze by whisking 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into the icing sugar until you have a thick but pourable glaze. Using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of glaze over the Elisenlebkuchen.  Place the freshly glazed cookies on a cookie rack set atop some parchment paper to catch any excess glaze and wait for the glaze to harden. 

Note: When the icing has fully hardened, cookies can be stored in a metal tin for up to several weeks.  Apparently the flavours improve with time, so that might be an incentive to not devour all the cookies at once!

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