Have you ever heard of lebkuchen? If you’ve spent time in Germany around the holidays, I’m guessing you have. For those of you who haven’t, lebkuchen are soft cookies made with honey, spices, and nuts. They’re often described as “German gingerbread,” but I think these are better than most gingerbread. The cookies are light and fluffy and they’re not overwhelmingly spiced. Unlike many cookies, these don’t get stale right away and can be kept fresh for months! The ones with “short” shelf lives are good for 6-8 weeks!
Lebkuchen arrived in Germany in the 13th century when they were made in monasteries. These cakes were made with honey and a variety of spices. Nuremberg quickly established itself as the lebkuchen capital and even obtained a protected designation to ensure that only authentic lebkuchen from Nuremberg could claim the title Nurnberger Lebkuchen. The city was able to quickly dominate the lebkuchen industry because of its location on trade routes with steady spice supplies from the East. It was also surrounded by forests full of beehives, so they had a convenient supply of honey.
Lebkuchen can be a variety of flavors, shapes and sizes. While it’s pretty common to find round lebkuchen (especially in U.S. stores where there isn’t a ton of variety), lebkuchen can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes. At Christmas markets, the cookies are often made into hard heart shapes with icing messages written on them. The cookies are often on the larger size, which just makes them all the more awesome.
If lebkuchen dough is placed on a thin wafer, it is called oblaten lebkuchen. These are the ones with a shorter shelf life, so gobble them up quickly (in 6-8 weeks). I think the wafer is something of an acquired taste. When I first tried an oblaten lebkuchen I thought it was odd to have a slightly crisp wafer with little taste at the bottom of a soft and flavorful cookie. However, after I tried a few it just became part of the whole experience and I became accustomed to the taste.
Nurnberger lebkuchen are soft and light cookies often cooked on oblaten and with marzipan. Elisen lebkuchen are required to have at least 25% nuts, specifically almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts; as well as less than 10% flour. These designations help ensure the quality and consistency of lebkuchento ensure consumers know what they’re getting.
Lebkuchen can also be coated in dark, milk, or white chocolate as well, which helps temper the spiciness of the cookie. You can also often find them in decorative tins, which make them great gifts!
Want to try making your own lebkuchen? Here are a few recipes to try:
If you make lebkuchen tell me about your experience! I love hearing about others’ baking stories!