A Little Bit of Christmas for Valentine’s Day: Sally’s Lebkuchen

One of the highlights of our holidays this year, at least food-wise, was a cookie baking day with my mom, Luca and a childhood friend, her son and her mom from their family Lebkuchen recipe which originally comes from Nuremberg, Germany. The wikipedia page for Lebkuchen says this type of cookie, also known as “honey cake” dates to the 13th century.

I love family food traditions and cooking from tattered, well-used, handwritten recipe cards (the more notes the better!). It was quite special to have 3 generations cooking together and to be making a whole new host of cooking memories with my little one. At the time, I remembered thinking that it’s a shame that we only make these kind of special recipes during the already hectic holiday season, so we thought Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time to try again. These are particularly nice to give as gifts which make them a perfect Valentine’s Day baking project. The piped decoration is special and the cookies keep well (and actually improve) over time.

Lebkuchen

Sally’s family always made these a week or two before Christmas since the flavor of cookies actually gets better with age. They’re pretty soft when just baked and become nicely chewy after a week or so. My friend’s son has a nut allergy, so we omitted the almonds which the original recipe calls for. I’ve left off the nuts and scaled down the entire recipe in the version below. You should be able to make approximately 2 dozen medium-sized cookies.

1. Mix wet ingredients. Combine 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup molasses cup, and 2/3 cup brown sugar. Then add 1 lightly beaten egg, 1 tsp  of  baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon of white distilled vinegar, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, and 1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger — or candied citron peel (optional)

2. In a seperate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together: 2 2/3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt

3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Form dough into a disc (it will be sticky). Cover with plastic wrap and chill well.

4. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Generously flour your work surface. Dust flour on both sides of dough and roll out to 1/8″ thickness. The dough is easier to work with when it is cold. Lift up the edge of the rolled out dough to make sure it isn’t sticking before you start to cut out your shapes. Re-roll the scraps.

5. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place the cookies on a buttered baking sheet. You can dust the cutters with flour to help the dough release. I also like to brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush before baking.

6. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. Let cool before decorating with royal icing. Make a simple icing using powdered sugar and a small bit of apple juice (approximately 1/2 pound of sugar to 2 Tablespoons of liquid — start with less liquid and add more a little at a time. Sift the sugar first to ensure there are no lumps). Or, if you have the time, try Martha Stewart’s royal icing recipe.

7. Using a pastry bag with a small decorating tip (or a ziplock bag with a tiny hole snipped in one corner) to pipe your icing onto the cooled cookies. Let icing set for 2-3 hours (or until completely dry) before storing or packaging the cookies. To keep the cookies soft, you can tuck a piece of apple in with them.

Some good tips on working with icing:

  • Step-by step how to from the Brown Eyed Baker.
  • Sweetopia‘s top tips. I like her “10 second rule” to determine if your icing is the right consistency.

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2 thoughts on “A Little Bit of Christmas for Valentine’s Day: Sally’s Lebkuchen

  1. I’m going to try this today.
    I got a hold of my grandmother’s lebkuchen recipe – she had roots in Austria and brought the recipe from there.
    But it took a lot of translating in more than one sense of the word.
    Besides everything being in grams, the leavening agent was Hirschhorn, which is actually ground deers’ antlers.

    -Kent, San Francisco

    • Wow that’s pretty exotic, but so cool to have your grandmother’s recipe. My husband has a handwritten cookie recipe from his great grandmother written in a mixture of Italian and english. The recipe calls for a “glass” of sherry among other things. Despite having the recipe, we’ve been unable to re-create her famous “S” cookies… something lost in translation I guess, but we keep trying!

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