Monday, May 6, 2013

German Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen is a traditional Christmas treat in Germany.  I know it's May, but in January, we visited Germany and picked up the ingredients to make these.  I didn't want to wait until Christmas, because the main ingredients are ground nuts.  I didn't want them to go stale.  Plus, our book club had just finished reading the Book Thief, a book set in WWII Germany.  I thought it would be fun to take some German food to the meeting.  I know the average German citizen didn't have access to sugar and other foods during WWII, but I had the ingredients on hand to make these, so make them I did.  :) 
These cookies are so good!  This is the same recipe pictured at the bottom of this post: we visited my parents in January 2011 and my mom had these ready for us when we got there.  They were my first taste of fresh (non-store bought) Lebkuchen.  The difference is amazing- these are soft & chewy, with the same amazing spicy flavor I was used to with store bought.  

I had to do a few things differently.  First, there seemed to be a powdered sugar shortage on the island last week (I have since found some).  So, I frosted all of these with chocolate instead doing half with a white powdered sugar glaze, like the recipe states.  The other thing was that I didn't have the round Lebkuchen baking paper wafers, so I just lightly greased parchment paper to bake them on and they were fine.  I also added ginger & cinnamon to the recipe.  You will need a kitchen scale for this recipe.
With the leftover melted chocolate, I dipped dried fruit (apricots, pineapple) that we get from  (Last pic on bottom of post.)  This chocolate + oil combo melts so smooth and glossy; I loved working with it.  This is the same cookbook I got these Amerikaners from last year.  

German Lebkuchen
adapted from German Baking Today (pg. 244)

40 baking wafers (optional; these are hard to find outside of Germany)

2 medium eggs
200 g/7 oz (1 scant cup) brown sugar
3 drops vanilla extract in 1 Tablespoon sugar (or 1 TBS vanilla sugar)
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
2-3 drops rum essence
1-2 drops lemon essence
125 g/4.5 oz ground almonds (almond meal/flour)
1 pinch baking powder
about 100 g/3.5 oz ground hazelnuts (may need a bit more)
100 g/3.5 oz candied orange or lemon peel, finely chopped

For white icing:
150 g/5 oz (1 scant cup) powdered sugar
2-4 teaspoons hot water

For the chocolate coating:
75 g/3 oz plain chocolate (not chocolate chips-either milk or dark will work)
1 teaspoon oil (canola, soybean, sunflower, etc.)

1.  Preheat the oven to 140 C (280 F).  If using baking wafers, lay them out on baking sheets.  If not, line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly grease with cooking spray.

2.  To make the dough, whisk the eggs using a hand mixer (or stand mixer) until foamy.  Add the brown sugar and vanilla sugar and mix everything together for two minutes.  Then stir in spices, rum & lemon essence.  Add the almonds and baking powder, mixing quickly.  Then, add as many hazelnuts as needed for a mixture that is thick but not too thick.  You don't want the cookies to spread or be runny at all.  I had to add an extra 25g or more of hazelnuts.  Mix in the canied orange or lemon peel.

3.  If using baking wafers, place an appropriate amount of dough on each one and spread in a dome shape using a butter knife dipped in water.  If using parchment paper instead, place level tablespoons of dough on the parchment paper.  I used my smallest cookie scoop; it's exactly one tablespoon.  I was able to fit a lot of Lebkucken on each baking sheet.  Spread each ball of dough out in a dome shape using a butter knife dipped in water.  

4.  Bake in the preheated oven 15-20 minutes, or until they just begin to turn light golden brown at the edges.  (The book states 25 minutes, but this would be way too long in my oven.  Start checking at 10-12 minutes.)

5.  Frost half of the cookies with white icing; the rest with chocolate icing.  Frost with the white icing immediately after they are taken out of the oven and placed on a wire rack to cool.  Frost with the chocolate icing after the rest are cooled completely.  

6.  To make the white icing: sift the powdered sugar and add enough water to make a thick icing.  (Frost half of the cookies while still hot.)

7.  To make chocolate icing:  coarsely chop the chocolate.  Set a small heat-proof bowl over a saucepan with 1/2 inch water over low heat.  Add the chocolate and oil.  Melt together and stir until completely smooth.  Coat the remaining Lebkuchen with chocolate and leave to set.  If chocolate is not setting, place in refrigerator. (Note:  Since I was out of powdered sugar, I just doubled the chocolate mixture to coat all of the Lebkucken.  I had extra chocolate, so I coated dried pineapple and apricots with it.)

Dipped Fruit
Chocolate-dipped dried apricots & pineapple with leftover chocolate.
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