One of the things I look most forward to with the arrival of the holidays is lebkuchen. If you like spiced cakes and cookies, you are in for a treat! Lebkuchen are German soft gingerbread cookies that are only available stateside during the holiday season. I have been somewhat obsessed with them ever since we were first introduced many, many years ago. Until now my sister is the only person aware of my lebkuchen habit and my ritual of buying several packages of these goodies (and not really sharing) year after year. I have tried a few variations of store bought lebkuchen over the years, which include sugar glazed and chocolate dipped, but my favorite has always been Bahlsen’s Grandessa, lebkuchen baked on a thin wafer base (oblaten) and covered in dark chocolate.
It never occurred to me until very recently that I should try to make my own lebkuchen. A little research and lots of recipe sifting lead me to a recipe that I thought resembled the cookies I have come to love. The ingredients that were universal to all the recipes were honey, cinnamon, candied citrus and hazelnuts. And because Grandessa is my favorite, I thought I would include dark chocolate and the oblaten base, which are difficult but not impossible to find (check local specialty stores or the internet). If you live in the Bay Area, the Pasta Shop in Berkeley is a great resource.
The cookies were quite good immediately after they were glazed, but they were even better after being stored for a few days in an airtight container with a small wedge of apple (or orange) as instructed by lebkuchen experts. What I ended up with was a cookie that was a bit more chewy and dense than the store bought version I am familiar with, but very similar in flavor. I think this is the beginning of a new holiday tradition. And I can’t wait to share with friends.
makes 2-3 dozen cookies (depending on size)
adapted from allrecipes.com
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, finely chopped
1/3 cup apricot kernels or almonds, finely chopped (optional)
1 package of back oblaten (optional)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
10-12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
In a medium saucepan combine honey and molasses and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add brown sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let cool slightly and whisk in egg. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix till well combined. Stir in the chopped nuts and candied orange. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. If you are using the back oblaten, lay the wafers down to cover as much of the pan area as possible. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Roll one portion of the chilled dough on a floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer dough to prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time, until no imprint remains when touched lightly. Remove cookies from oven and cut into squares or diamonds with a large knife. While still warm, brush the tops off cookies with icing. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely.
To make the icing: Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil until sugar reaches 240°F. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar. If icing becomes too thick while brushing the cookies add a little hot water to dissolve crystals.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Take cooled cookie and place in the melted chocolate face down and coat evenly. Remove from chocolate and let set on a wire rack. When chocolate has hardened, transfer to an airtight container with a piece of apple or orange and store in a cool, dry place for a few days. Check the fruit frequently to ensure it has not spoiled.