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:
#2 Dorie Greenspan’s Linzer Sables
#4 101 Cookbooks Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies
December 6th, 2009 at 10:59 am
These cookies bring back memories of my childhood. My Russian grandma made ‘pepper nuts’ every Christmas – I hated them! Hers were unappealingly dense, dry, bitter & rock hard. I think she even put alum in them. This recipe may just redeem ‘pepper nuts’ in my eyes. Thanks!
December 6th, 2009 at 12:33 pm
I am soooo allergic to these two nuts… I guess this is why walnuts and pine nuts exist – I wonder how this switch would pan out.
December 6th, 2009 at 12:38 pm
I could make the obvious “I’m from Germany and I approve these cookies” comment, although I do. You nailed it with the glazing, because that’s what the kids gravitate to mostly, so it’s the most important of the whole cookie. I’m feeling compelled to do a batch now, especially in this christmasy part of the year. Thank you very much!
Heather @ chik n pastry says:
December 6th, 2009 at 12:42 pm
These remind me of those cookies on the grocery cookie aisle only much better looking!
Which reminds me – I need to find a recipe for Jose pink-bagged Danish wedding cookies – those are my favorite store bought cookies!
December 6th, 2009 at 2:47 pm
I haven’t made these in years! Wunderbar!
December 6th, 2009 at 3:45 pm
mmmmm i’ve become addicted to Trader Joe’s “pfeffernüsse” (“pepper nuts”, as mentioned above) cookies, and now i have a recipe to make them myself! many thanks!!
December 6th, 2009 at 4:22 pm
Monks baking the first pfeffernüse on communion wafers: I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true! I know at Trader Joes they do sell a kind that does have a wafer-like base.
Karin's Mom says:
December 6th, 2009 at 9:50 pm
Oh Tim, thanks for all my uppity cookie recipes!
December 9th, 2009 at 2:04 pm
This is amazing, I just got some of these in the mail from a friend last night and wasn’t sure what they were. Glad I saw this post today!
December 11th, 2009 at 5:08 am
My German mother made both Lebkuchen and Pfeffernuesse, which are quite different from one another in both spicing and texture. I’ll have to try these, but the ingredients (and picture) suggest Pfeffernuesse, not Lebkuchen.
October 7th, 2014 at 5:30 pm
how much almond and hazlenot flour would i use for these…also 6 oz? i have both, might as well use them, thanks
December 8th, 2015 at 11:04 am
These look so amazing, my German heart is aching to make these. Off to the store I go.
RUSSELL WUERTZ says:
August 12th, 2016 at 3:37 pm
Our family was shipped this from Stuttgart, Germany each year
and it is a delightful addition to Christmas holidays.
The Family tree, with an angel on top. Gets a little chilly
and we would come down the chimney if necessary. The tooth fairy
on top, of a Christmas tree, with ornaments and presents under the tree.
December 6th, 2016 at 8:26 pm
I just noticed these at cooksillustrated dot com, and was so excited to find a “review” of them. They look and sound delicious, so I will put them on my “to make” list. Thank you!!!!!!!
April 3rd, 2017 at 4:02 pm
I was excited to try these, but neither my husband nor I liked the flavors. However, it is definitely a good quality cookie with a nice texture. To each their own, but it was fun to try.
Laura Saffioti says:
December 24th, 2017 at 7:27 am
I love this cookie and return to it year after year.