Monday, June 9, 2008

German gingerbread cookies or it's always Lebkuchen time


Buy Lebkuchen Gingerbread here


Lebkuchen is a soft spicy gingerbread that can be glazed with a sugar syrup or chocolate. Sometimes it is baked so that large crunchy sugar crystals remain whole (how, dear G*D how do they do that??). These crunchy bits are waiting to dissolve with glorious bursts of flavor. Can you tell I love Lebkuchen? I opened a package of Contessa Lebkuchen Klassiker (classic) to sample a bite so I could describe it more accurately and before I knew it 3 whole cookies were gone! I had to quickly hide the rest from myself.


But those few moments of gingerbread bliss.. oh my. And yes I kid not, it was moments! The really cool thing about these cookies is the way they are baked on back oblaten which is a disk or sheet made out of wheat or rice paste and is paper like. You take the dough ( you, not me I *not* a baker remember!) and set in upon the paper so it's almost to the edge. And you bake it. The wafer is kind of a preserving technique as it hold moisture in the cookies so they don't go stale. Seriously, I've eaten and enjoyed cookies made on this paper that were so and flavorful and 3 years old! I didn't intend to eat old cookies. It just happened. It was a test that one of the retired Austrian ladies gave me to see if I could tell which of the holiday cookies she gives me every year was a 'vintage' cookie. I couldn't. Very weird until she explained how back oblaten preserves cookies. I suppose if I ever get my oven fixed and decide to try my hand at baking again I might try this kind of cookie. It seems more fool proof than other baking. Or then again if I didn't succeed the evidence would be around for a half life...





A mixture of aromatic spices, including: Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom, Coriander, Mace, Nutmeg, Aniseed, Pimento, Lemon peel.



I wonder if my love of Lebkuchen is in part tied to the Aniseed in the spice blend and my obsession with all things licorice? Probably.



The Empress of all gingerbread is the Elisen Gingerbread which like French wines can only be called such if it is made in a certain part of Germany. The reason this gingerbread is even more special is the addition of ground nuts in place of flour. That means they are full of protein and good for you~ yea!

The recipe that follow is this Elisen type of gingerbread.

This is a recipe named for the patron Saint of gingerbread makers in Germany.


Provided here, approximate measurements if you need to use American measuring cups. If you can find it, Lindt sells a large bar of chocolate that is excellent for melting and is roughly the correct amount you need - a little more won't be a problem.

For the nuts - these are not to be confused with chopped nuts - they should be finely ground into a meal. If you can't find them sold this way in your area, whirl them through a coffee grinder or food processor briefly (you don't want mush) until they are floury. The nuts are the "flour" in this recipe and cannot be omitted - however you may use hazelnuts or other nuts that you prefer.

300 g powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 lemon, grated zest of
75 g candied lemon peel, finely chopped
300 g very finely ground almonds
50 white German baking wafers, 4 cm diameter (Oblaten)
100 g sweetened milk chocolate, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 150 C (or 300 F).

2. Place powdered sugar and egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat, using a whisk attachment on an electric mixer on high speed, until stiff (but not dry) peaks form- this may take while (up to 8 minutes- but may take less depending upon your mixer).

3. Combine the lemon zest, the candied lemon peel, and the nuts, then gently fold in the egg whites mixture- do not over mix.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then set out the oblaten wafers.

5. Place a 1 rounded Tbsp of cookie dough onto each oblaten in a mound.

6. Bake about 20 minutes until light brown, in the center of the oven.

7. If necessary, set a second (empty) cookie sheet in the rack directly above the cookies to help keep the tops from over browning.

8. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks.

9. Melt chocolate in either a double boiler or in the microwave briefly until you can stir down the chocolate into a melted glaze (be careful not to burn if you use the microwave- chocolate tends to hold its shape even if it is melted inside when melted this way).

10. Drizzle the tops of each cookie with the melted chocolate.

11. If you prefer, you may melt even more chocolate and carefully dip the cookies halfway.

12. Let dipped cookies dry on a cooling rack.

13. Pack into airtight containers.

14. IF USING AMERICAN MEASUREMENTS: Use about 2 cups ground almonds, 2 1/3 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup candied lemon peel, and a couple of Hershey's milk chocolate bars (regular size)- or more. 50 servings change to: US Metric servings 1 hours 30 mins prep time 30 mins cook time

These are delicious soft & puffy cookies. The Oblaten wafers, which serve as the bottoms of these cookies, can be found in German markets - they look like Communion wafers, and are actually made in the same manner.
The history of gingerbread dates back to honey cake in Egyptian royal tombs from around 1500 B.C. According to Egyptian mythology, and Greek, Roman and Teutonic mythology later on, honey was a gift from the gods. This explains why honey was always attributed a demon-banishing, healing and life-giving effect.There have been records of the patrician name “Lebzelter“ (gingerbread baker) since 1296 near the town of Ulm, Germany. And the monks in the Elisabethan-Spital hospital of the Nuremberg Teutonic Order of Knights meticulously noted in their rent book in 1395 that a hen had been paid as rent for a Lebzelter house in a street called the Schmidgasse.The German word for gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”) first appeared in writing in a Franconian manuscript in 1409. Apparently, the term has been known since the 13th century and the fortifying, health-promoting effect of spicy gingerbread has been known for just as long.Scholars have been disputing about the origin of the German word for gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”) almost as long as it has existed. Has it something to do with the Polish word "lipa" (lipa – lime tree because the honey required came from this tree)? Or is the word, as most experts believe, derived from the Latin word "libum" (flat, round, unleavened cake) because Latin was the language of the monasteries and gingerbread was once a monastery matter?Long may the linguists continue to puzzle over the origin of the word. We’ll just enjoy the product!The oldest gingerbread recipe in writing dates back to the 16th century and is displayed in the National Germanic Museum in Nuremberg. The ingredients given are sugar, honey, mace, ginger, cardamom, pepper and flour.Considerably modified, gingerbread recipes appeared in the “Complete Nuremberg Cookbook“ in 1691. Mention was already made of almond, wafer-based gingerbread with aniseed, candied lemon peel and rosewater aroma. It’s not without reason that, even as far back as the 17th century, the master gingerbread bakers of Nuremberg were known for their craftsmanship far beyond the city walls.Of course, every gingerbread baker had his own closely guarded, secret recipes. However, changes in taste have meant that the art of baking gingerbread and the recipes have changed over the centuries. In the last century in particular, the speed at which the raw materials are delivered to the gingerbread centres has also changed. Our gingerbread has long been international, with hazelnuts from Turkey, almonds from California, walnuts from France, eggs from China and the Eastern bloc, cocoa from Africa, candied orange and lemon peel from the Netherlands and Italy, ginger from Japan, cardamom from Sri Lanka, coriander from Romania, cloves from Brazil and Madagascar, etc. etc.Gingerbread is becoming more and more popular. In earlier times, gingerbread was only eaten over the Christmas period because people could only afford this delicacy at “holy times”. Nowadays, brown gingerbread is available all year round. However, wafer-based gingerbread is still only available in the winter months. As it is manufactured without the use of any chemical preservatives, it must be stored in a cool place and packed well to ensure a long shelf life.To preserve its distinctive taste, high quality and naturalness, master gingerbread makers subject themselves to strict standards which exactly specify the composition of the various types of wafer-based gingerbread.

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