Traditional German Christmas Baking
At this time of year we all like to enjoy those little indulgences as we snuggle up next to the fire. In Germany festive baking known as Weihnachts-Gebäck, plays a major role in the traditional family Christmas.
German baked cuisine has influenced the way many people eat across the world at this time of year. You are as likely to find a delicately dusted Stollen as you are a brandy soaked fruit cake on any British Christmas table. One of the most popular German festive foods is the Lebkuchen biscuit which can come covered in icing, heart-shaped with piped on patterns or just as a plain pillowy parcel of spicy delight.
What is it that makes these treats so irresistible and where did they originate?
Lebkuchen are the familiar spice scented biscuits that are integral to Christmas celebrationsacross Germany. They were first made in Nuremberg in the middle ages by the monks and were known as honey cakes. Romans ate similar honey biscuits as did the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians. These civilisations thought of honey as a great gift from their gods so cakes of this nature were highly prized. The monks in Germany continued with this long tradition and used honey as the main ingredient in their celebratory baked goods.
LebKuchen can be translated as 'life cakes' which makes perfect sense given that honey was seen as elixir from heaven. Even though this literal translation seems very fitting, the actual origin of the word “Leb” is not clear, but the most popular assumption is that it stems from the Latin libum, meaning flatbread. Medieval monks also used a selection of spices to flavour the cakes to aid digestion. Nuremberg was in an ideal location for tapping into the spice and salt trade routes of Europe and as a result the monks would use any spices they could get their hands on. These were often cardamom, ginger and nutmeg.
The biscuits that were baked to celebrate the birth of Jesus contained ingredients that were too expensive for ordinary people to afford so it wasn't until the seventeenth century that families started to make their own versions. Many German families use recipes that have been handed down through the generations making the baking practice an extremely important tradition.
Today Nuremberg Lebkuchen is shipped across the world and the exact recipe is strictly guarded. A firmer version is also made which is used to build the famous gingerbread houses so indicative of the season.
Make your own authentic Lebkuchen.
What you will need:
225g brown sugar
250g sour cream
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cloves
200g mixed candies peel
100g sliced almonds
What to do:
Heat the molasses, honey, sugar and butter in a pan and set it to cool.
Mix the sour cream and bicarbonate of soda together.
Add the sour cream mix to the cool molasses mix.
Add all the other ingredients and mix together to form a dough.
Leave the dough in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
Roll the dough out to 2 cm thick and use Christmas themed cutters to cut out shapes. Do not use too much flour to roll out the dough.
Bake at 180c for 10 – 15 minutes.
The biscuits can be iced either by piping on a thicker icing sugar mix ( use icing sugar plus a little water to reach the desired consistency) or the entire surface can be iced. Use half water and half lemon juice to create a looser icing sugar mix if you want to ice the whole biscuit.
If you are storing the biscuits add a slice of a citrus fruit to the tin to keep them moist.
The most important stage in the baking process is to taste and enjoy the fruits of your labour. The monks would drink strong beer with their honey cakes but we recommend that you accompany them with a mug of festive Gluhwein. You can make your own by following our tried and tested version here.