Lately I received some questions about Lebkuchen, the German gingerbread. But these traditional Christmas treats have never been my favourite, so I have to admit I didn’t know much about them until I started to look up recipes for people who asked about them.
Lebkuchen cookies have a very long tradition in Germany. They come in many different shapes with different textures and ingredients. There is not the German lebkuchen cookie recipe. Many cities have their unique lebkuchen versions, like Nürnberg or Pulsnitz, which is close to Dresden.
I tried two different kinds so far. One is called elisenlebkuchen. It’s a special kind of lebkuchen from Nürnburg. (Nuremberg Gingerbread). It’s usually made without flour. The most important ingredients are egg whites, nuts, and succade. The other one is a simple gingerbread cookie that can be cut out and used for gingerbread houses.
Even today these cookies are still made with traditional ingredients. Honey (or for a vegan version: agave nectar) is the main sweetener. Lebkuchen are often made with rye flour or with a mixture of rye and wheat. They are also leavened with traditional raising agents like Hirschhornsalz (ammonium bicarbonate) and Pottasche (potassium carbonate or potash).
During Christmas season many German grocery stores sell these special ingredients together with Lebkuchengewürz (gingerbread spice mix). Lebkuchen spice contains a mix of spices like cinnamon, anise, coriander, mace and or nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, allspice, and fennel. There is lots of room for variation.
The combination of honey, rye flour, and spice mix provide the unique flavour of lebkuchen. It is improved by a very long dough rest. After the dough or parts of the dough are made, they have to rest 8 to 24 hours before you start making the cookies. Traditionally it was stored much longer, sometimes for months, to develop flavour.
I made my first gingerbread cookies yesterday, but I ma not yet where I want to be. This was an experiment and I’ll share the recipe as soon as I got these like I want them to be. And I already got the ingredients for my next lebkuchen project, the elisenlebkuchen.