December 16th, 2012

For Christmas: lebkuchen

Enough of this sorrow and pain—now for something completely different, something for the holidays.

Those of you who’ve read this blog for a long time are probably familiar with the following old family recipe, which I’ve posted here before. But here it is again for anyone who may have missed it. The recipe was brought over from Germany with my ancestors sometime in the mid-1800s, and when I was growing up it was my favorite of all the wonderful treats cooked by my great-aunt Flora, a baker of rare gifts. She and my great-uncle were not only exceptionally wonderful people, but to my childish and wondering eyes they looked very very much like Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

The name of the treat is lebkuchen, but it’s quite a different one from the traditional recipe, which I don’t much care for. This is sweet and dense, can be made ahead, and keeps very well when stored in tins.

Flora’s Lebkuchen:

(preheat the oven to 375 degrees)

1 pound dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 oz. chopped dates
1 cup raisins
1 tsp. orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. lemon juice

Sift the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon).

Beat the eggs and brown sugar together with a rotary beater till the mixture forms the ribbon. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, and extracts to it.

Add the dry mixture to it, a little at a time, stirring.

Add the raisins, dates, and walnuts.

Grease and flour two 9X9 cake pans. Put batter in pans and bake for about 25 minutes (or a little less; test the cake with a cake tester to see if it’s done). You don’t want it to get too dark and dry on the edges, but the middle can’t still be wet when tested.

Meanwhile, make the frosting.

Melt about 6 Tbs. of unsalted butter and add 2 Tbs. hot milk, and 1 Tbs. almond extract. Add enough confectioner’s sugar to make a frosting of spreading consistency (the recipe says “2 cups,” but I’ve always noticed that’s not usually correct). You can make even more frosting if you like a lot of frosting.

Let cake cool to at least lukewarm, and spread generously with the frosting. Then cut into small pieces and store (or eat!).

I have no powers of resistance for this particular treat.

12 Responses to “For Christmas: lebkuchen”

  1. Gringo Says:

    I’ll have to try that. My mother made lebkuchen that was like hardtack in texture, but delicious. Must have had a lot of orange peel in it, as I recall an orangy taste to it.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo: this isn’t hard in texture. Most people really love it and find it quite addictive, but there are a few who think it’s too sweet. I am not one of the latter.

  3. vanderleun Says:

    “I have no powers of resistance for this particular treat.”

    Obviously you have to save yourself by shipping all of it to ….. ME!

    Write for shipto address.

    Thanking you in advance, I remain your soon to be more portly reader….

  4. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Ahh – I’ll have to try this. Now, I posted one of my Christmas recipes on my book-blog, here: Carribbean Black Fruitcake, or as a friend of mine who adored it, called D-W-I Fruitcake. You start with ground dried fuit macerated in rum, and end with the baked cake soaked in tawny port. My friend kept slices in her freezer, and was so potent that it stated soft.

    Bon appetite, y’all!

  5. Jan in MN Says:

    Neo, thanks for the recipe! Our family has made lebkuchen since way back I don’t know when. After my mother stopped making it, I took over, then my daughter-in-law, and now my granddaughter has done it for the past few years. It’s a two-day affair: the first day is rolling out the dough, cutting the shapes and baking. The next day is the decorating — basically the confectioner’s sugar glaze with a few sprinkles of this and that. Our recipe is different — there seem to be as many varieties as there are Germans — but I’ll have to try this one.

    I tried your fruit cake recommendation — it’s excellent! I had to order it for myself, because no one else in the family wants any!

    Christmas seems to be a time when all our food quirks emerge.

  6. chuck Says:

    You had me at 1lb dark brown sugar and 4 eggs 😉

    Not really, I’m mostly low carb, but I’d happily eat some at someone else’s home.

  7. expat Says:

    I don’t think I’ve evet known anyone here who actually makes lebkuchen. It is so widely available in stores and bakeries that it probably doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Homemade stollen is another matter. I got one as a gift about a week ago, and it was so good.

  8. bartdp Says:

    Forgive me but Hostess may have stopped making twinkies……here is a great receipe….enjoy and Merry Christmas

    Twinkie Cake (Kentucky style)

    1 Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
    1 cup whole milk
    ½ cup Solid Crisco
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 stick ( yes one whole stick) butter
    ½ tsp salt
    1 cup sugar
    5 tbl spn all purpose flour
    Bake cake mix as indicated on box (let cool)
    Cut cake in half (through the middle, top and bottom) by using a piece of thread( did I mention this was Kentucky style). Remove top layer.
    Mix icing ingredients:
    Heat to boiling (the milk and flour)
    Let cool completely
    Then mix butter, Crisco, vanilla, salt, and sugar very well and spread out over the bottom layer of cake, carefully replace top section of cake, dust top with powdered sugar!

  9. Surellin Says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I love the whole “family recipe” thing, and I am not above pillaging somebody else’s family. For instance, I stole my Advent-season favorite goulash from one Betty Crocker, but after 25 years or so it’s unrecognizable and it’s MINE! 🙂

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    expat: ah, but not this lebkuchen. It’s quite different from the type in stores. My family always called it “lebkuchen,” but that probably goes back several centuries, because it certainly doesn’t resemble the usual kind.

    Oh, and this is pretty easy to make.

    And very easy to eat. Lots of it.

  11. Gringo Says:

    Neo, I made the lebkuchen today. Because it was thicker than my mother’s lebkuchen, it didn’t have the hardtack texture. Her icing was thinner- you drizzled it on the finished product.

    Because I am in TX, I used pecans instead of walnuts.

    It was different from my mother’s lebkuchen, but very tasty.

    Some reactions from neighbors follow. One who tried it before being told it was called “lebkuchen” said the following: “It tastes German.” Which it is- the dark brown sugar and the cinnamon were the apparent giveaways.

    A neighbor from Morocco, a Sephardic Jew, still cooks a lot of Moroccan food, a half century after having left Morocco. Perhaps it goes without saying that what she cooks is very tasty, but I will say it. She liked the lebkuchen so much that she got the recipe from me and will cook it tomorrow.

    Also bear in mind she very seldom cooks dessert food. She bakes her own bread, so her not baking much in the way of cookies and such reflects her inclinations, not her abilities. Her thus deciding to bake lebkuchen is thus an indication how much she liked it, given that she hardly ever bakes sweet stuff.

  12. John Kidle Says:

    How do you pronounce lebkuchen?

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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