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Lebkuchen are very similar to gingerbread cookies but softer, spicier and much easier to make. The mix of spices can be played with – a bit of nutmeg will go well, a pinch of ground cloves, cardamom or even ground black pepper (only they will be called Pfefferkuchen then).
They can be just shaped into slightly flattened balls, grown up style, but it’s great fun to cut festive shapes, ice and decorate them. It will be a hit with kids – although truth be told, I know some adults who get an excited glint in their eyes at the mention of cutting festive shapes, sprinkles and dipping their fingers in the icing.
Lebkuchen are of German provenance, invented by Franciscan monks (like so many good things – beer, pretzels, Chartreuse and Bénédictine. Monks knew how to live. Or did they?) in the 13th century. But the origins of those little numbers go even further back, to the ancient times when they were called ‘honey cakes’ and believed to bring good luck and have healing properties.
So let’s have some luck and healing this Christmas – what else can we want? They are delishhh, fun to make and can even be made into Christmas tree decorations. I’ll store mine in a biscuit tin and sneak one or three every day.
The recipe comes from BBC Good Food but sounds authentic. The icing comes courtesy Andrew Whitley from ‘Bread Matters’ – not only bread to be found there – and it’s the best icing in the world.
lebkuchenServings: 2-3 dozen cookiesTime: about an hour
- 250g (2 cups) plain flour
- 85g (scant cup) ground almonds
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 300g set or 200ml (3/4 cup) runny honey
- 85g (6 tbsp.) butter
- ½ cup candied mixed peel
- For the icing:
- 30g (2 tbsp.) butter
- 30g (2 1/2 tbsp.) caster sugar
- 30g (2 tbsp.) lemon juice
- 110g (scant cup) icing sugar
- decorative sprinkles (optional)
- For the chocolate coating:
- 180g (1 cup) cooking chocolate chips (couverture)
1.Mix all the dry ingredients: flour, almonds, baking powder, baking soda and the spices in a large bowl. Stir in the mixed peel.
2.Heat up the butter with the honey until it melts, let it cool a little and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well into a sticky dough. Chill for at least an hour, longer if you want to roll the dough out and cut out shapes.
3.You can just scoop out pieces of the dough and roll into balls the size of a walnut, place on a baking tray lined with parchment, well-spaced as they will expand quite a lot. But it’s more fun to cut out Christmassy shapes – turn out the dough onto a generously floured surface, dust with more flour and roll out to about 5mm thickness. Cut cookies with festive cutters and place on a baking tray, well apart from each other.
4.Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Bake the Lebkuchen for 10 minutes and leave to cool still on the parchment sheets – they will be very soft right out of the oven but will set when cooling. Transfer them to a wire rack.
5.Make up the icing by heating up the butter, the caster sugar and the lemon juice until the boiling point; pour it straight into the icing sugar. Beat with a whisk until smooth.
6.Brush the icing on the biscuits with a pastry brush and decorate if you want, then leave to set completely.
7.To coat them in chocolate, melt two thirds of the amount over a bain-marie (in a bowl set over a pan with simmering water). Take the bowl off the heat and add the remaining third; stir vigorously to melt. The chocolate should stay liquid long enough to dip all the Lebkuchen; return it onto hot water if it sets too much.
8.Coat the cookies with the chocolate one at a time. The easiest way is to drop a cookie into the chocolate upside down, turn gently over with a small fork, then lift it with the fork and tap off the excess of chocolate against the rim of the bowl. You can also try scraping it off the bottom very gently with a knife. Set the cookie onto a tray lined with parchment.
9.When all are covered, leave them on the tray until the chocolate is completely set, best overnight. When set and dry, pack the Lebkuchen into a biscuit tin or airtight jar. They will keep very well for a few weeks, slightly softening with time.