December has come! Which means, along with it, Christmas season finally arrived! Just like beautiful lights and Maria Carey’s All I Want For Christmas, sweets and cookies are essential to get all of us into a festive mood. In many German families and households, baking Christmas cookies traditionally rings in the pre-Christmas-period. There are probably hundreds of different, delicious German cookie recipes. And many regions even have their very own type of Christmas treat. There is, for example, Lebkuchen, which is typically prepared in the rather southern parts of Germany. The most famous German Lebkuchen center definitely is Nuremberg. In this city, Lebkuchen have been part of the traditional cuisine for more than 500 years. To find out, why Lebkuchen might even be a cure to mysterious diseases and how to make them yourself, read on!
To Get Us Started: What are Lebkuchen?
Lebkuchen can be described as small Christmas cakes or cookies, similar to ginger bread. The main ingredients are typically different kinds of grated nuts, honey, spices like aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom and allspice. Often, also candied fruits are added. They can be covered with chocolate or sugar icing, or simply stay plain and are baked on plain wafers.
The German Lebkuchen center definitely is the City of Nuremberg. This city is not only well known for its special Christmas treat, Nuremberg really goes strong in the Christmas game. It also hosts one of the most, or even THE-MOST famous German Christmas market, the Christkindlesmarkt. Each year, of course pre-Corona, millions of tourists travelled to Nuremberg to visit this famous market.
To be honest, there are much cooler, more authentic Christmas markets in many other, smaller towns of Germany. But nevertheless, it definitely makes a nice memory to go to the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. Just one tip of the German, writing this article: Try to avoid going on the weekends. On these days it is packed, and you will have to wait ages to order at whichever stand.
But let’s go back to the topic: What is so special about the Lebkuchen from Nuremberg?
A Short History of Ginger Bread in Bavaria
For sure, the people from Nuremberg are and always have been very proud of their typical Christmas cakes. Nürnberger Lebkuchen actually is a protected designation of origin. This means, only Lebkuchen produced in the city area of the city can be labeled as Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
Lebkuchen have been linked to the German City for more than 500 years. Back in the days, to be precisely from 1470-1530, the city flourished as it was one of Germany’s trade centers. It was a crossing point of many trading routes, thus had easy access to exotic spices from far away destinations like the Middle East. Also, at that time there was quite an active society of honey hunters in Nuremberg. Resulting from this, the people of the Franconian city had the perfect starting conditions to make the tasty cakes.
Elisenlebkuchen – The Legend of Elisabeth
The probably most famous German Lebkuchen are the so called Elisenlebkuchen. And guess, which city they are from! Obviously, they must be from Nuremberg, too. And, as so often, of course there is a story to this very traditional treat:
Legend has it, around 1720, there was one poor Lebkuchen-baker in the city of Nuremberg. Only recently, he had lost his dear wife due to a fatal disease. Already shook by the loss of his better half, the streak of bad luck went on, and also his daughter fell ill. Her illness left all the consulted physicians confused as none of them knew, how to cure the poor girl.
The father of the girl, desperately worried, was at its wit’s end. But then, the saving dea struck him! He remembered the healing effect of the spices he used every day, baking his Lebkuchen. The baker rushed to bis workplace and creatively thought of a new recipe, leaving out the flour to focus on the ingredients of the highest quality. Once done, he served his creation to his daughter who, after this, was miraculously cured.
Maybe you can think of the daughter’s name? Of course, it was Elise, the short form of Elisabeth. According to the legend, this is how the famous treat from Nuremberg was created and named.
So, maybe you are feeling a little off lately and a treat of Elisenlebkuchen might be just, what you need? Or you simply feel like trying these delicious cakes to get your festive mood started. Whatever reason it is that makes you crave the delicious treat, honestly, it is more than legit. Read on to find out how to make the traditional, delicious German Lebkuchen at home.
A Recipe For German Elisenlebkuchen
Before getting started, note that this recipe might contain some ingredients, that are not too easy to get outside of Germany. Especially, candied orange and lemon peel might be hard to find. If you want to get the most authentic German Lebkuchen experience, you can always try the evil A on the internet. If not, simply leave it out. Also, it might be difficult to get the required spice mix. Click here to find a recipe on how to make it yourself. You will of course not use the full batch for the lebkuchen, but the spices also add a delicious turn to café lattes and hot chocolates.
To make around 25 Lebkuchen, you will need the following ingredients:
- 80g of orangeat (candied orange peel)
- 80g of zitronat (candied lemon peel)
- 3 eggs
- 80g of brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons of fluid honey
- 270g of grounded hazelnuts and/or almonds
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 0.5 teaspoons of ginger bread spice mix
- 0.25 teaspoons of grated lemon peel
- 25 wafers (of a diameter of 7cm)
- 100g of chocolate glaze
How to make Elisenlebkuchen
Start with preheating the oven to 150C. Then finely chop the orangeat and zitronat. Add the eggs and the sugar to a bowl and beat the mixture until creamy. Add the honey and all the other ingredients except the orangeat and zitronat and, of course, the chocolate glaze. Quickly mix all of it, then fold in the orangeat and zitronat. If the dough is too moist, add one more tablespoon of grounded nuts.
Put the wafers on a baking tray. Next, partition the dough on the wafers, forming little domes. Bake the Lebkuchen for about 20 minutes, or until the top turns slightly golden.
Once done, take the Lebkuchen out of the oven and off the baking tray and let them cool. Once they are cool, melt the chocolate glaze and use it to top off the Lebkuchen.
This recipe was taken from the German baking blog Backen macht glücklich.
If you do not eat all the Lebkuchen at once, we recommend you to store them in a airtight box. And if you are looking for a warming beverage to enjoy along with your Lebkuchen, check out our recipe for chai tea.