What is Lebkuchen? Lebkuchen are German Christmas Cookies!
It’s a pretty common question this time of year… What is Lebkuchen? is it like Gingerbread? The answer is yes… sort of. When someone offers you a Lebkuchen cookie, you shouldn’t expect a snappy gingerbread man. Lebkuchen is not crispy or crunchy…and it tends to be round or rectangular (seldom person shaped). It’s a rich, soft, spicy sweet and very filling cookie (or bar) with a cake-like texture. There are many types of Lebkuchen, but they all contain spices, honey and ground nuts. Some get dipped in chocolate, some have chopped candied citrus peel, and some are glazed with sugar glaze. Let me share a little bit more about Lebkuchen, the history of this cookie, what goes in them, and the different varieties of Lebkuchen, so you can find your favorites.
What is Lebkuchen?
I’ve always considered Lebkuchen to be a German CHRISTMAS Cookie, but it wasn’t always so. The mainstay of the Bunter Teller has been around since the the Middle Ages even longer if you consider the Honey Spice cookies in Ancient Egypt to be Lebkuchen, but I have a feeling those cookies/cakes bore only a slight resemblance to the ones produced today.
Crusaders are credited with bringing many spices to Europe. Pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon not only made foods taste better… they acted as preservatives. One theory has it that the reason we associate these spices with Christmas is that the Crusaders brought the spices from the Holy land… and this got tied up with the story of the Wise Men bringing spices and incense to Baby Jesus.
But the most important part was PRESERVATIVE.
TODAY’S Lebkuchen arrived in Germany when bakers in Aachen in modified a Belgian recipe, and created (my favorite) Aachen Printen. From there… Lebkuchen spread through monasteries by Monks and Nuns who were looking for something that was filling, and had long shelf-life, so it could be stored for hard times.
Lebkuchen is first mentioned in 1296 in Ulm, and then Nuremberg in the 14th century. Munich’s tax rolls show that there was a “Lebzelter” professional Lebkuchen baker, in 1370.
Nuremberg became especially famous for their Lebkuchen. It helped that they had ready access to two of the main ingredients. Because the city sat at the crossroads of the trade routes, it was easy for them to get all the spices they needed. Also, the city was surrounded by the Reichswald (forest), also known as the “Emperor’s Bee Garden”. Lebküchner in Nuremberg had everything they needed to produce world class Lebkuchen, and they still do!
From the Nuremberg Christmas Market… Lots of Spices and Bee Hives make
Nuremberg famous for Lebkuchen
What spices are in Lebkuchen Gewürz?
Although Honey makes them sweet, and adds to their longevity, a whole load of spices go in to Lebkuchen to make them flavorful.
Lebkuchen Gewürz Recipe
Lebkuchen Gewürz or Spice includes–
Cinnamon – 5 Tbl
Cloves – 1 1/2 Tbl
Allspice – 1 tsp.
Coriander– (optional) 1/2 tsp.
Green Cardamom (I LOVE Cardamom!) – 1 tsp.
Ground Ginger – 1 tsp.
Star Anise – 3/4 tsp.
Mace – 1 tsp (Every wonder what that mystery box of Mace in your Oma’s pantry was for? Mystery solved)
All spices must be finely ground… a coffee grinder works well for this (just keep in mind that it will make your coffee taste like spices forever). You can also get a spice mill. The tricky bit is the amounts. No two recipes agree on the exact amounts… you can start with the list above, then adjust according to your tastes.
Of course, it’s always easier to BUY it–>Lebkuchen Spice
Different regions developed different specialties… for example, in Thorne, they are sometimes given a filling, in Nuremberg Lebkuchen are often decorated with Almonds or Candied Citron, and in Munich, Lebkuchen is cut out with a cookie cutter, and given a glaze.
My favorite variation story? In the days before non-stick spray and baking parchment, Monks came up with a creative way to keep the Lebkuchen from sticking while baking. The dough was placed on a communion wafer (I guess they had a few of those lying around the church anyway). Today, the wafers are called Oblaten… and they are still very much a part of Lebkuchen baking. (I do have some communion questions now… but I’ll save them for my Pastor, so no one here gets upset).
Different types of Lebkuchen
There are 2 different TYPES of Lebkuchen. That is, there are 2 different Lebkuchen dough types that make all the different Varieties of Lebkuchen. It’s all in the flour… although eggs and honey make a difference too.
Shaped Lebkuchen is Braune Lebkuchen… whether it’s covered in chocolate or not
Braune Lebkuchen (Brown Lebkuchen), is made with more flour, always uses honey, and is generally shaped or pressed into a mold. Some of the more familiar Braune Lebkuchen varieties are-
Honig Kuchen– Honey Cake
Printen – Long Rectangle Cookies with sugar bits
Dominosteine– Square Shaped Cookie Confections with Marzipan, Gelee and Chocolate
Lebkuchen Hearts and Stars – chocolate or covered in a sugar glaze
Gefüllter Lebkuchen– Lebkuchen with Filling
With little to no Flour, Oblatenlebkuchen needs to be baked on an Oblaten to keep it from sticking
Oblatenlebkuchen, has little to no Flour. Made primarily from ground nuts, sugar or honey. Because it has low flour content, and is high is oil rich nuts, you can use sugar to sweeten this kind of Lebkuchen without worrying that it will harden. Similar to Macron dough, Lebkuchen dough is generally piped, and so it doesn’t stick, it goes onto a wafer or Oblaten. Some familiar Oblatenlebkuchen varieties are-
Oblatenlebkuchen– Either frosted with a glaze, or dipped in Chocolate
Weißelebkuchen– A Rectangular shaped Lebkuchen with more eggs.
Elisenlebkuchen– This is the HIGHEST quality of Lebkuchen, made with virtually no flour.
Where to Buy Lebkuchen
So, are you hungry now? Want to try some delicious German Lebkuchen? You can order some here, without even getting out of your chair!
Craving Home Made Lebkuchen Like Oma Made?
Let an Oma bake some for you…
Bake Your Own Lebkuchen
Home made Lebkuchen is DELICIOUS!
There are loads of Lebkuchen Recipes… depending on which kind you like. Find a good selection of recipes here
And start baking!