There is a surprisingly lengthy Wikipedia article on Lebkuchen (or, as I learned, pfefferkuchen), which are German gingerbread. They go back as far as the 13th century to a group of monks who would bake them on top of communion wafers to prevent them from sticking. Or not, it is a wikipedia article after all. I am choosing to believe the article. Especially the part that claims the roots of these cookies go back to ancient Egypt when they were made with honey and used to protect you from evil spirits.
You won’t be surprised that they have been around for hundreds of years when you taste one. This recipe produces a round cake-like cookie with slightly crisp edges, full of spice and chopped nuts. It is topped with a simple glaze that adds a finishing sweetness. The citrus in the dough really helps to keep these fresh and bright despite the intense flavors. I love them. They are also such a breeze to make. You can make the dough in advance and keep it refrigerated for up to 24 hours or form it into balls, freeze on cookie sheets, and then place frozen cookies in zip-lock bags until ready to bake.
Come back tomorrow for another cookie and another very special guest!
Lebkuchen (recipe from Cook’s Illustrated)
- 6 ounces unblanched hazelnuts , toasted and cooled (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 6 ounces unblanched whole almonds , toasted and cooled (about 1 cup)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons grated zest from 3 oranges
- 2 tablespoons grated zest from 2 lemons
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter , softened
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (7 ounces)
- 1/4 cup whole milk
For the cookies: Heat the oven to 350 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Process toasted nuts, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a food processor to a fine meal, 30 to 60 seconds, stopping and scraping the sides as needed. Add the orange and lemon zest, and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds; set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together using an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue to mix until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add the ground nut mixture and continue to mix until evenly combined.
Portion 2-tablespoon-sized mounds of dough (you can use a small ice cream scoop), spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart, onto the baking sheets (each sheet should hold about 10 cookies and you should have enough dough left for another sheet of cookies).
Bake the cookies until the edges are firm and the tops are puffed with tiny cracks, 13 to 18 minutes, rotating and switching the sheets halfway through the baking time. Set the cookies aside to cool on the baking sheets until set, about 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Reline one of the baking sheets with parchment paper, portion out the remaining dough into cookies, and bake as directed.
For the glaze: When the cookies are cool, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and milk together in a medium bowl until smooth and incorporated. (If the glaze begins to dry out as it sits, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to loosen.) Using a pastry brush, brush a thin layer of the glaze over the tops of the cookies, and let sit until the glaze has set, about 10 minutes.
Previously on the 12 Days of Cookies: