C2C: The Lebkuchen Tradition

Each year, for as long as I can remember (up until the time we moved to Nigeria), my mother made Lebkuchen during the Christmas season.  And not just a little; she would make a LOT of lebkuchen.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with lebkuchen, it’s a German sheet cookie that resembles gingerbread.  And when I say it’s “German,” it tastes and smells exactly like what “German” connotes.  It’s not a light cookie; it’s a heavy cookie.  And the way my mother made it, it had nuts and candied fruit and such in it, so it tasted very German.

Lebkuchen, or “life cake,” usually has molasses, honey, nuts, and other things that, if you were to be stranded on a desert island, you would want to have with you to sustain your life.

Every year, there would be a couple of weekdays (or a weekend) when the family would bake together… we would make cookies–lots of them–to give away to friends, neighbors and family during the holiday.  The lebkuchen, full of molasses, honey, and cinnamon, would be drizzled with a sugary, lemony glaze and topped with sprinkles, so as to convert it from a bread to a dessert-like cookie that could actually be quite tasty.

It made for a wonderful holiday memory, one that stands out distinctly in my memory, not only for the great times that we had decorating pastries, but also because it was a way to bless those around us during Christmastime.

What’s your favorite family baking tradition?

Here’s a recipe for Lebkuchen, should you want to try it for yourself:

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup candied mixed fruit peel, finely chopped
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat the egg, brown sugar and honey until smooth. Stir in the molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice; stir into the molasses mixture. Stir in the almonds and candied fruit peel. Cover or wrap dough, and chill overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut into 2×3 inch rectangles. Place cookies 1 1/2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. While still warm, brush the cookies with the lemon glaze.
  4. To make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the egg white, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Brush over cookies.
  5. As an alternative, instead of a sugar glaze, you can put a chocolate glaze on top of the lebkuchen (as pictured above), and can do many other interesting things to it.
  • http://www.nurturedmoms.com/ Heather

    Ahhhhhh! Lebkuchen!! I remember how she used to hide the extra in the broom closet and we would go in there and help ourselves. At least I did. hahahaha

  • Saralynn

    These sound wonderful! My mom always makes pfeffernusse, another heavy German cookie. :) One of my favorite traditions is celebrating Santa Lucia Day on Dec. 13. The women in the house traditionally wake up early and bake some breakfast goodies, then gently wake up the men of the house by carrying candles and singing a particular Santa Lucia song. At least that’s how we did it growing up. :) I think it’s a Swedish holiday.

  • Käthlin

    This makes me happy that this apparently ended up becoming a tradition for all Elliot children. :) I always thought it was because we had lived in Austria, but I guess it was actually a family tradition thing– probably great-grandma Clara’s fault. A good one, though! :)

    • Bob

      I agree… good tradition… I didn’t know it was a tradition in your family, too! But, I can be oblivious sometimes :)

      • Käthlin

        Yep, and I think Sue’s clan does it too. Not sure about Uncle Jim and his gang, though… he may not have been a fan of the lebkuchen…