As with most legends surrounding old recipes the origins of this one are vague, but it is believed the word ‘Lebkuchen’, German gingerbread, comes from either ‘lebbe’, very sweet in old German, or ‘libum’, cakes in Latin, however it is known that as "Honigkuchen", Honey cake, it was a favorite in 1500 BC Egypt.
Lebkuchen is a German cookie especially popular during the autumn and winter, for "Oktoberfest" Hearts as well the Christmas, New Year and Valentine's Day celebrations, but it used to be placed on the graves of Egyptian kings.
Its present incarnation began in Belgium, traveled to the German city of Aachen around the 13th century where the gingerbread recipe was named Pfefferkuchen and, as happened with many things in those days, further developed by monks and nuns. During the 14th century it arrived in Bavaria at a Nuremberg monastery and in 1409 had a new name, "Lebkuchen".
Gingerbread is still hand shaped and decorated in many bakeries, following the "one pot one bowl" recipes passed down through generations, which are usually fat free and, although the main ingredients of honey, molasses, flour, sugar, eggs and mixed spices remain the same, often nuts, candied citrus fruit, dried fruits and marzipan are added as well as a covering of chocolate instead of icing.
This is an authentic recipe for a basic hard gingerbread, which not only makes a delicious spiced cookie, but also Valentine's Day and Oktoberfest Hearts, Gingerbread Men, Honigkuchenpferd, (Honey cake horse), or decorations for the Christmas tree.
While it is also ideal for building a Hexenhaus, the "Witch's Cottage" of brothers Grimm "Hansel and Gretel" fairytale fame, or a Lantern that with the aid of a 'tea light' will give out both light and a delicious spicy aroma. I always 'glue' those together with melted chocolate, it holds really well while blending in with the color of the gingerbread, and then decorate with frosting, but many use a really thick frosting mix to stick the pieces together. Now the recipe:
LEBKUCHEN - GERMAN GINGERBREAD
3/4 cup softened, but not warm, unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (cane sugar adds extra flavor)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
3/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup honey
2 medium eggs, beaten
3 to 4 cups flour (All purpose or 2/3 wheat 1/3 rye)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
(Instead of the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves the same quantity of a ready made spice mix such as Pumpkin or Gingerbread, or easily made traditional German Speculaas or Gingerbread spice mixes, can be used.)
Place butter and sugar into a large bowl and cream the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy.
Add spices and zests, beating until they are incorporated.
Heat molasses and honey until boiling and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Add molasses mixture to butter stirring constantly, then beat in the eggs and combine thoroughly.
Sift 3 cups flour, soda and salt together and stir into mixture.
Stirring, add as much of the remaining flour as needed to get a soft but not sticky dough.
Shape into a ball and cover with plastic wrap.
Chill at least overnight so the flavors can develop, as well as making it easier to handle. Can be left for three days.
Roll out the dough about 1/3-inch thick.
Using cutters or freehand, cut the dough into whatever shapes you have in mind.
If they are to be Christmas tree decorations or Oktoberfest hearts don’t forget to make holes for the ribbon or twine.
Brush with the lightly beaten white of an egg.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes well spaced out on a greased sheet or baking paper, they will spread, and take care not to allow the edges to brown.
Lebkuchen are a sheet cookie which are often served just as they are without any decoration, but they are also decorated with frosting, melted chocolate or slivered almonds.
For Oktoberfest Hearts, Christmas decorations or Gingerbread Men…... wait until completely cooled and decorate with a piped stiff royal icing, made from a mixture of slightly beaten egg whites, a little lemon juice and confectioner’s (powdered or icing) sugar added gradually until the icing becomes stiff and can stand in peaks.
Edible coloring can be added once the mixture has bound together.
For Cookies…..for a softer topping, brush with a Lemon Glaze made from
1 egg white
1.1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s (powdered or icing) sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
In a small bowl with mixer or by hand, beat egg white, powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
Brush onto still warm cookies, and if liked they can then be decorated with diced mixed candied fruits and peels.
A little trick which makes sure your stored gingerbread stays, or becomes, soft is to place a sheet of baking paper with some apple skins on top of the cookies, and store them in an airtight container.
Guten Appetit!.......Enjoy your Lebkuchen
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Using this Lebkuchen Recipe and Royal Icing as the 'Glue', and with the help of a Wilton 3 Piece Gingerbread House Metal Cookie Cutter set, you can make a Gingerbread House that is not only beautiful to look at but also delicious to taste.
Together with the German Gingerbread recipe The Wilton Comfort Grip Heart Cutter is just the right size for making your own Gingerbread hearts, and not only for Oktoberfest
All illustrations public domain and the monk 'Lebkuechner' picture dates from 1520