Lebkuchen is a type of gingerbread traditionally made in Germany. There are many different varieties of Lebkuchen, with different specialties in different regions, but they are typically made with honey and spices. This version is one of several Lebkuchen recipes in the 1803 cookbook Augsburgisches Kochbuch.
I translated this recipe using a combination of my half-remembered high school German, Google Translate, the Wikipedia page of obsolete German measurements, and help from strangers on Reddit. It’s entirely possible that there are errors, as I am not a fluent German speaker, and this recipe uses archaic spellings, words, and measurements that are not used in modern German. I also decided to make a few changes to the recipe; while the original recipe describes shaping the Lebkuchen using molds (most likely similar to the molds used for Springerle), the dough was fairly lumpy and I didn’t think it would work well in a delicate mold. Instead, I used the shaping and glazing instructions from a similar recipe called “Noch Andere Lebkuchen” (Another Lebkuchen) later in the same book.
I chose this particular recipe because of the interesting spices used. In addition to cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg, the recipe also calls for cubeb pepper. Cubeb pepper tastes a little like a cross between allspice and black pepper. If you can’t find it, you could try substituting those instead, but it is fairly easy to find online. The recipe also calls for pottasche (also spelled potash), a leavening agent used in German baking to this day. It’s also pretty easy to find online – just make sure you’re buying pottasche specifically meant for baking, since it is also used as an ingredient in some fertilizers.
Braune Lebkuchen (1/2 of original recipe):
- 250 ml honey
- 116.9 grams sugar
- 116.9 grams almonds, blanched and finely chopped
- 1/8 tsp pottasche (potassium carbonate)
- 1 tbsp Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
- candied peel from one lemon, finely chopped (about 75 grams)
- 29.24 grams candied orange peel, finely chopped
- 7.31 grams ground cinnamon (about 2 1/2 tsp)
- 3.65 grams ground cloves (about 1 1/2 tsp)
- 3.65 grams ground cardamom (about 1 1/2 tsp)
- 3.65 grams ground cubeb pepper (about 1 1/2 tsp)
- 1/4 of a nutmeg, grated
- 467.7 grams flour
- Put the honey in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat just until it starts to boil.
- Stir the sugar into the honey and let boil for a few minutes, being careful not to let it burn.
- Stir in the almonds, cook for a few minutes, then pour the hot honey mixture into a large mixing bowl.
- Dissolve the pottasche in the kirschwasser, then stir into the honey mixture.
- Stir in the candied orange and lemon peel and all the spices.
- Finally, stir in the flour, kneading the dough until it is all incorporated.
- Roll out the dough about half an inch thick; it gets harder to roll as it cools, so I found it was best to do it while it was still warm.
- Cut out the dough in whatever shapes you want. Simple shapes work best since the almonds and candied peel make the dough relatively lumpy; hearts are a very traditional shape. Any scraps can be rerolled and cut out.
I tried two different options for glazing the cookies, both given in the recipe “Noch Andere Lebkuchen” (Another Lebkuchen):
Option 1, Sugar Topping:
- Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar before putting them in the oven.
- Bake at 325 degrees for about 15-18 minutes, until the sides of the cookies are just set. They will harden as they cool.
Option 2, Sugar Glaze:
- Put the cookies in the oven at 325 degrees.
- While the cookies are baking, put 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan and boil until thickened.
- Take the cookies out of the oven after 10 minutes and brush with the sugar glaze.
- Return the glazed cookies to the oven for about 5-8 minutes, until the sides of the cookies are just set. The glaze will harden and crackle as it bakes.
My favorite thing about these cookies was the flavor – the mix of spices and citrus was absolutely lovely. I did realize that I may have made a translation error for the spice measurements, however; I had initially thought that the instructions “ein halbes Loth Nägelein, Kardemomen und Kubeben, jedes für 1 Kreuzer” (half a loth of cloves, cardamoms and cubebs, each for 1 kreuzer) meant that the same amount, half a loth (about 7.31 grams) should be used for all three spices. On closer inspection, I think the “half a loth” measurement might only be referring to the cloves, while the phrase “each for 1 kreuzer” refers to the cardamom and cubeb. A kreuzer was a type of coin at the time; this phrase might mean to use as much cardamom and cubeb as you could buy for 1 kreuzer, or perhaps an amount of cardamom and cubeb that would weigh the same as 1 kreuzer, I’m not sure. While I loved the taste of the cubeb pepper, it did seem a bit overpowering compared to the other spices, so I might use less of it if I make this recipe again.
Although the taste is wonderful, I was not as happy with the texture of the Lebkuchen. They were very, very hard when first baked. They did soften up a bit after a few days, especially when stored with a slice of apple in the container, but they still were a little too chewy for my liking. I’m not sure if this is the texture they’re supposed to be or not; historically, most cookies did tend to be harder than modern cookies so that they would keep well. Still, I expected the pottasche to give these a little more lift. If I make these again, I will try using a little more pottasche to see if that helps. I’ve also read that letting the dough rest at room temperature for several days before baking improves the texture. I might also try using slightly less flour; it’s supposed to be a stiff dough, but I think I could’ve used a little bit less and the dough would have still been rollable.
While my recipe may need some tweaking to make perfect Lebkuchen, I’m still pretty impressed that I was able to make something edible considering the difficulties of translating the original recipe. Plus, I learned that cubeb pepper is delicious and will definitely use it in my baking from now on. If you understand 19th-century German or are an expert Lebkuchen baker and have any tips for improving the recipe, please comment with anything I might have missed! I do want to try making these again next holiday season.
Davidson, A. (2006). Lebkuchen. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (p. 449). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weiler, S.J. (1803). Augsburgisches Kochbuch. Augsburg: Joseph Wolffischen Buchhandlung. https://books.google.com/books?id=65bNEAqtagAC&newbks=0&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false