Lebkuchen: German Christmas Cookies

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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Lebkuchen. It is one of Germany’s most famous Christmas treats. But what is Lebkuchen (pronounced lep-koo-hen)? Is it like the American gingerbread? Yes and no. Lebkuchen – sometimes also called Pfefferkuchen (translated it quite literally means pepper cake) isn’t crunchy or crispy and it doesn’t come in the form of a gingerbread man. It does have a cake-like texture and tends to be very rich, soft and spicy. And a very filling cookie.

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There are many types of Lebkuchen – some have chopped nuts, others are glazed or covered in sprinkled or dipped in chocolate – but in the end they all consist of spices, honey and ground nuts. The ultimate sweet treat, Lebkuchen – along with the hollow foil-wrapped chocolate Santas – is one of the most popular and beloved throughout all of Germany during the holiday season. Christmas markets are filled with them in different shapes and sizes – the most beloved one is the heart. Some of them are garnished with colorful decoration and come with sayings like ‘I love you’ or ‘You are my Sweetie,’ others are just plain. Or covered in chocolate – my favorite. And the most famous ones come from Nürnberg!

Lebkuchen is believed to have been invented by monks in Germany in the 13th century. It is first mentioned in 1296 in Ulm, and 1395 in Nürnberg. Baked in monasteries, Lebkuchen included honey and a variety of nuts and spices. And soon they would also include communion wafers or Oblaten after the monks discovered that they are the perfect addition to the stinky gingerbread dough as long as they increase the diameter of the wafers. Germany’s most famous Lebkuchen are the Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen. Only Lebkuchen produced in Nürnberg can carry that title and have the one-of-a-kind characteristic of including no flour and having a very high ratio of almonds and hazelnuts.

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Lebkuchen is nothing without its Lebkuchengewürz. The gingerbread spice gives the Lebkuchen its flavor and makes it stand out. The spice is used in many baked goods during the German Christmas season. Here is a little recipe to make your own!

Lebkuchengewürz

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground gloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

– Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use within a week since flavors will dissipate.

But you can also buy the spice already made here or buy Lebkuchen on Amazon.

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