I love Lebkuchen, the spiced Christmas-time biscuits from Germany which are slightly soft rather than crisp. They are often called German Gingerbread with the most famous type originating from Nuremburg. The German Food Guide gives more information on the different types of Lebkuchen. This recipe is for the most well known type: Brown Lebkuchen, but there is a lesser known White Lebkuchen made with almonds and candied fruits. Brown Lebkuchen can be either iced or chocolate covered. It was not easy tracking down a brown Lebkuchen recipe. There was nothing on my extensive cookbook shelves or in the library, and although there are lots of references to Lebkuchen online the recipes I found were written for US cups rather than UK or European measures. (I know there are conversion tables but I find them rather confusing and baking is a precise art!) My only comment on the finished biscuits, which were lovely, was that we would have liked some other spices. Other online recipes included cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom. I will definitely make Lebkuchen another year and I will try adding a bit of one or two other spices to see whether they improve an already good recipe. If they do I will update this post. (By the way, you really cannot detect the chilli heat, so don’t worry about including it as an ingredient.)
I had almost given up my hunt until a chance conversation with a cookery loving friend – thank you Jo – who lent me a delightful little book, a charity shop purchase. In the book: Making Gingerbread Houses and other Gingerbread Treats by Joanna Farrow, was the Lebkuchen recipe I had been seeking, plus instructions for decorating the finished biscuits. Truly this is a book for those who like to mess around in the kitchen, also giving recipes for golden and chocolate gingerbread and how to form them into the most amazing Gingerbread creations, including ideas for using crushed boiled sweets as stained glass windows. (As the gingerbread bakes the sweets melt and form a brittle coloured shell.) Wish I had visited the charity shop first!
(Makes 40-50 biscuits, depending on the size of your cutters)
115g/4ozs unsalted butter, softened
115g/4ozs light muscovado sugar
1 egg, beaten
115g/4ozs black treacle
400g/14ozs self-raising flour
5ml/1tsp ground ginger
2.5ml/½tsp ground cloves
1.4ml/¼tsp chilli powder
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale in colour and fluffy.
2. Beat in the egg and treacle.
3. Sift the flour, ground ginger, ground cloves and chilli powder into the bowl. Using a wooden spoon gradually mix the ingredients together to make a stiff paste.
4. Turn this paste onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead until it is smooth.
5. Wrap and chill this dough for at least 30minutes. (I left mine in the fridge overnight.)
6. Grease two or three baking sheets. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4
7. Divide the dough into equal portions, one for each cutter you are using. I used three different shapes of about 4.5cm/1¼inch: heart, square and round, each of which was differently decorated. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of ¼in/8mm. Cut out the shapes and place on the baking sheet with a space between each to allow for a very small amount of expansion. The dough can be re-rolled and cut, using a little additional flour to stop it sticking, until it is all used up.
8. Chill trays of uncooked Lebkuchen for 30 minutes.
9. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Once cool the biscuits can be stored in a well sealed container until you are ready to decorate and/or eat them.
10. Decorate each shape in a different way. When they are finished, leave in a cool place to set, but do not refrigerate as this will spoil the shiny appearance of the chocolate. Suggestions include:
a) Make an Icing Glaze: mix together 1tbsp lightly beaten egg white and 1tbsp lemon juice with enough sifted icing sugar until you have a mixture which is like thin cream and thinly coats the back of a spoon. Use this to cover the biscuits, tapping the wire tray as in a) to evenly distribute the glaze. This lemony glaze is a lovely complement for the ginger flavour as well as being very traditional.
b) Melt dark chocolate in a dish over a pan of boiling water (or very carefully in the microwave) and coat the biscuits. Do this on a metal rack over a tray. Tapping the tray slightly will help the chocolate run evenly over the biscuit. Add a decoration of chocolate sprinkles while still wet.
c) As a) but melt a little white chocolate in the same way in a separate bowl. Once the first dark coat is dry, pipe a decoration of white chocolate stripes or carefully drizzle with chocolate. (This could be reversed with dark stripes on a white coating for those who like white chocolate.)
d) As a) using dark chocolate and a dusting of sifted icing sugar while still slightly wet.
e) As a) using white chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder while still slightly wet.
f) A thin layer of marzipan under a coating of chocolate. Other decoration if you wish.
As mentioned above, there is another type of Lebkuchen made with ground almonds and decorated with candied peel. I plan to try this recipe for White Lebkuchen from the Good Food Channel website another year.
Thick Chocolate Fruit & Nut Lebkuchen
Lebkuchen can also be cut twice as thick (making half as many finished biscuits, of course) giving a softer more chewy biscuit/cake. These thick Lebkuchen are covered with a coating of dark chocolate as in a) above and then decorated with glace cherries, almonds and walnuts.
These are both something to try another time and I will make a separate post if they are successful.