Lebkuchen – German Gingerbread Cookies

Sometimes I like to leaf through old magazines to find recipes I deemed too complicated or not suitable at the time. Also, up until a couple of years ago, I used to subscribe/buy quite a lot of cooking and baking magazines, which means now my shelves are literally stocked up with reading material. I found the recipe for these biscuits in the December 2012 issue of delicious. and I have made them twice already – although not as successfully the first time. For those of you who do not have much experience with German Christmas baking, the term Lebkuchen (of uncertain etymology) refers to a variety of soft or wafer-like biscuits containing nuts, honey and spices, and they are loosely related to gingerbread.

Most recently, Lebkuchen are made in heart shapes and heavily decorated with royal icing – these are the ones traditionally sold in Christmas markets/fairs all over Europe. When I was a kid, my dad used to buy a commercial version from Lidl (sold with a chocolate/white icing coating) and take it home for Christmas. As a kid with a very sweet tooth, you can imagine how happy I was to finish them all as soon as possible. This recipe might not be 100% authentic, but it makes really good and soft Lebkuchen. I made them for a German friend for Christmas and he definitely enjoyed them, so that’s good enough for me.

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Ingredients (for the cookies)

  • 90g skinned, roasted and ground hazelnuts
  • 65g blanched almonds
  • 300g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g dark soft brown sugar
  • 175ml clear honey (mine had subtle orange notes)
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 2 large eggs

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 350g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp white rum
  • 1 tsp lukewarm water

Method

  1. Put the nuts into a food processor with half the flour, then pulse to a fine powder. Add the remaining flour, cocoa powder, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then process briefly to mix.
  2. Put the sugar, honey, butter and orange zest into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the spatula attachment, then cream together until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gradually add the nut and flour mixture in two additions, then mix on a low speed until just combined. The mixture will be wet but will hold its shape. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and transfer to the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line at least two baking trays with parchment and set aside.
  4. Take the biscuit dough out of the fridge. To shape the cookies, scoop out portions of the dough either using a measuring spoon (you are aiming for 1 1/2 tbsp) or judge them by eye and roll them between slightly wet hands. Shape each patty into a ball and place on the baking tray, but ensure they are 4-5cm apart because the biscuits will spread.
  5. Bake each batch on its own in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the biscuits comes out clean. Don’t overbake them or they will be tough and not pleasant to eat. While you are baking a batch, keep the other(s) in the fridge to rest. This will also ensure the biscuits don’t spread as much and that they keep a dome shape during baking. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. To make the icing, combine the ingredients in a large bowl and mix to obtain a smooth but not too liquid icing. You can test the consistency by dipping a biscuit in it and letting the extra icing drop off it. If the biscuit keeps a nice white glaze on top, then it’s ready. If the mixture is too loose, it will slide off the biscuit. In that case, add a little bit more icing sugar. If the mixture is too solid, add more water 1 tsp at a time. If you don’t want to use rum, substitute for water instead.
  7. Ice all of the biscuits by dipping them into the icing dome surface first, then allowing the extra icing to drip off the cookie. Turn onto their bases and allow the icing to solidify. Enjoy!

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