Elisenlebkuchen

For years, we had Lebkuchen shipped from Nuremberg to New York in a big, beautifully decorated silver box. Thomas chose that particular company because they had the best Elisenlebkuchen (the flourless kind), and because he and the owner’s children had been childhood friends. They were neighbors, went to the same school, and — I learn just as I  write this, as I ask Thomas and he reminisces — did some pretty foolish things together in their youth. Fraunholz is a family business in the fourth generation, now run by the younger brother.

Ordering them was, every year, in more ways than one, a time-warp experience. In a bite, the cookies propelled the dark, gnarly, sparkly streets of the medieval German city onto our Christmas plate. And, in an age of codes and passwords and multiple proofs of identity, here was a company that took an online order, shipped their wares halfway around the world, and sent a bill to be paid upon receipt. This in itself seemed reason enough to continue the tradition. That, and the added bonus of the ‘Dominosteine’!

I’d like to say that we still receive those big silver boxes every year — but no. After years of hemming and hawing and meaning to and not doing, I have finally started making my own. I thought it would take decades to find and refine the ideal recipe, with much trial and error, but, magically, all the trying and testing has already been done and an impeccable recipe exists! Luisa Weiss’s fantastic Classic German Baking is worth its weight in Lebkuchen, for that recipe alone (though there are many, many more). They are, as Thomas somewhat reluctantly admits, pretty perfect.

The one thing I have changed is the shape. There are, in my opinion, a few reasons to bake Lebkuchen as sheets rather than individual cookies: It is how I discovered them to be sold on the Christmas market in Nuremberg; it makes them so much easier and less fiddly to prepare for baking, and then to glaze; and the absence of individual edges during baking leaves more softness and moistness throughout.

Happy baking and a very merry Christmas!

Elisenlebkuchen from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss
Find the original recipe here

5 eggs
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar (I reduced the sugar from the original which called for 350g — or 1 3/4 cup)
200g (7 oz) almond paste¹ (see recipe footnote below)
3 Tbsps Lebkuchen spice² (see recipe footnote below)
1/4 tsp salt
Grated peel of 1 untreated lemon
100g (2/3 cup) candied citron peel, finely chopped
100g (2/3 cup) candied orange peel, finely chopped
200g (2 cups) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and ground
200g (2 cups) ground almonds
100g (2/3 cup) blanched almonds, finely chopped
Wafer sheets

For decoration (optional)
Blanched almonds, split lengthwise
100g (13 Tbsps) confectioner’s sugar
60ml (1/4 cup) water

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line one 30cm x 36cm (12″ x 14″) roasting tray with parchment paper.

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the almond paste into the eggs and sugar. Whisk briskly for several minutes until the mixture becomes light and frothy. Add the Lebkuchen spice, salt, grated lemon peel, candied citron and orange peels, and all the ground and chopped nuts. Mix well until combined.

Place the wafer sheets onto the baking tray covered with parchment paper, making sure to cover all the way to the edges (if necessary cut the wafers into a patchwork to reach the sides). Scrape out the Lebkuchen dough onto the wafer sheets and spread out with a spatula until smooth and even. If using, place the blanched split almonds, smooth side up, in a pattern at regular intervals onto the dough — they should be spaced withe the view of cutting a lozenge-shaped Lebkuchen around each almond later.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the Lebkuchen tray is puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, to make the glaze, place the confectioner’s sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and boil down for a few minutes, until the glaze has thickened (stir or swirl the pan occasionally as it will bubble furiously).

As soon as the lebkuchen are out of the oven, glaze generously with a brush, making sure to reach every nook and cranny. Let cool completely before cutting the tray into individual Lebkuchen lozenges. Store in a tin box lined with parchment paper between each layer for up to 4 months.

¹ Almond paste [Marzipanrohmasse]

220g (1 1/2 cups) raw (or blanched) almonds
225g (1 cup and 2 Tbsps) granulated sugar
2 tsps almond extract
1 tsp rum
2 to 4 tsps water
Equipment: food processor

To blanch the almonds (unless using ones that are already blanched), soak them for a few minutes in bowl of boiling water until the peels can easily be squeezed off. Push the skin off each almond and lay them on a clean kitchen towel to dry.

In a food processor, blitz the sugar until powdery. Add the blanched almonds and process until a paste starts to form. This will take a while. Stop the motor occasionally and stir, and take care not to let your food processor overheat (mine did and shut off completely, which thankfully was just a failsafe, and I was able to resume grinding nuts the next morning after the machine had cooled completely).

Add the almond extract and the rum and continue to process, stopping and stirring every so often. Add a teaspoon of water at a time (probably somewhere between 2 and 4 tsps) and continue to process until the paste becomes completely smooth. Scrape the finished paste out of the machine and shape it into a brick, then store it in the refrigetator. The paste will keep for several weeks.

² Lebkuchen spice mix

For a most fragrant mix, the spices (except the ginger) can be freshly ground
30g (5 Tbsps) ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbsps ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mace
3/4 tsp ground aniseed

Stir all the spices together and store in an airtight glass container away from the light. The spice mix will keep for a few months.

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