Lebkuchen (Austrian Gingerbread Cookies)

Sad to say, this blog has a regrettable dearth of Christmas cookies.  (Or cookies in general).  I hope this post can help make amends.  With marmalade (if like me you have too much), brown sugar, molasses, a riot of spices, plenty of eggs, and of course candied ginger, these cookies are full of flavor and well worthy of the holiday season.

Christmas Lebkuchen (8 of 8)

I’ve loved this slightly chewy, soft gingerbread cookie (in contrast to the crisp, snappy variety) since enjoying is as often as I could in the Czech Republic.  Besides beautifully decorated showpieces, every grocery store stocked multiple varieties single serving cakes filled with your selection of jam and glazed in a thin veneer of chocolate.  Years later, I even imposed upon  my friend Jennifer to bring me back some from her annual trip to Austria, along with marzipan and plum paste.  (That’s sort of a lot, isn’t it?)

Christmas Lebkuchen (1 of 8)

These cookies are so easy to make–it’s whirred up in the food processor and frozen for at least four hours to stiffen it up a little.    I left mine in the freezer a full twenty four hours, and you can see how soft and viscous it is even after that–so don’t skip that step or you may turn an easy cookie making venture into a frustrating one.

Christmas Lebkuchen (3 of 8)

Scooping out with a cookie scoop is definitely helpful (see that part about being sticky and viscous above), but the good news is even as imperfect as my scoops started looking, they all baked up into lovely rounds.  Even my younger son enjoyed helping–that’s his cute little hand.

Christmas Lebkuchen (2 of 8)

Christmas Lebkuchen (4 of 8)

The frosting is as simple as can be–sugar held together by milk and a bit of butter.  It’s nothing but pure saccharine, which actually is the perfect icing for such complex and rich cookies.  Everyone I shared these cookies with gave them rave reviews, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we all did!

Christmas Lebkuchen (6 of 8)

Lebkuchen (Central European Gingerbread Cookies)

Ingredients
  • Cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (1 ounce)
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 5 large eggs
  • Icing
  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or toast, stirring frequently in a hot dry skillet for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove to a plate to stop the cooking, and let cool completely.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, allspice, salt and nutmeg.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cooled almonds until coarsely chopped. Add the brown sugar and pulse until incorporated. Add the marmalade, candied ginger and molasses and pulse until the mixture is well blended and the nuts are finely chopped. Add the eggs all at once and pulse until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and pulse until incorporated and the batter is uniform in color.
  4. Scrape the soft batter into a bowl, cover and freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Using a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop 8 level mounds onto each baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Freeze the remaining batter between batches.
  7. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and slightly firm; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Transfer the sheets to racks and let the cookies and pans cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
  8. In a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and butter. The butter will eventually incorporate. Spread the cookies with icing (it’s easiest to pick each cookie up and frost it rather than frost them on a plate) and let dry completely before serving or wrapping.
Notes

The cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Christmas Lebkuchen (7 of 8)

Pear Gingerbread Muffins

I know:  more gingerbread.  But I had to share here a post I wrote over on Honest Cooking.  After all, is there such a thing as too much gingerbread?  No, I didn’t think so.

I always think there’s something sumptuous about the idea of spices.  Hundreds of years ago, when spices were rare enough to be plied as currency, preparing food laced with a cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves must have been more than merely welcoming–it was a statement. Today, of course, spices are no longer such a precious specie–cinnamon is an everyday flavor, nutmeg almost as much, and cloves we even use for decoration.  Still, somehow that legacy of luxury seems to linger, and I think that must be why I always feel a bit profligate when I add spoonfuls of these potent powders to a batter or dough.

Funnily enough, though, the end product is more about comfort than extravagance.  Take gingerbread–laden with spices, but what is more homey? To these gingerbread muffins, I’ve added chunks of juicy pear, a fruit that begs to be combined with these warm flavors. It’s cozy feet in slippers in the middle of winter, but I could eat it any time of year.

Note:  Feel free to substitute whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour for up to half the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. In fact, this is another advantage of the spices: they add enough flavor that picky eaters probably won’t even notice the whole wheat.
Pear Gingerbread Muffins
  • 2c (9.2 ounces or 260 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • pinch of mace (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar (1.4 ounces/40g)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c (120mL) light molasses
  • 1 c (240mL) cold water
  • One Bosc (or other baking) pear, diced.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C).  Line, or lightly butter 12 standard (1/3-cup/80mL) muffin cups.
Whisk flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, mace if using and salt in medium bowl to blend.  In a second larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugar, molasses, and eggs. Stir in the cold water. Add half of the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the diced pears.
Bake gingerbread until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes (check after 20 minutes).
Set on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the muffin tin and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Fannie Farmer’s Gingerbread Cake, somewhat better for you

Every so often, I just have to have some gingerbread.  I’ve always loved gingerbread–who doesn’t?  And after two years living in central Europe, where this spice-laden cake was everywhere, the added dose of nostalgia only intensifies my cravings.  I even prevailed upon my friend Jennifer to bring me some back from her annual trip to visit family in Vienna.  She happily indulged me, and threw in some marzipan and plum butter, the other habits I picked up while over there.

Now, I have nothing against fancy cakes with frilly frosting, but when I’m baking, I go for something that doesn’t need that little bit extra.  I must be honest and admit part of it could be a touch of laziness as I often run out of steam when it comes time to whip up a buttercream frosting.  As I see it, this failing of mine is a virtue, as a cake is already sugar and fat a-plenty, and frosting only makes things worse.  So I’m not making a tremendous effort to reform my ways.

A gingerbread cake, with the warm, complex flavors of molasses and spice, certainly can stand on its own, though it can handle a drizzle of icing if you must. Because it’s homey and unfussy, it takes beautifully to a bit of whole-grain flours as well, which is all the better–as you know I’m often tweaking recipes to add a bit of whole wheat pastry flour here, or buckwheat flour there…

So here I am, tinkering a Fannie Farmer recipe.  I came across this in the current issue of Edible Boston (where else would Ms. Farmer, of the Boston Cooking School, get a shout-out?).  If you don’t know the Edible Communities series of magazines, you can check here to see if there’s one for your city or region–they round up the best of local food producers and purveyors, together with thoughtful articles, beautiful photography, and of course, recipes.

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (1 of 2)

This cake pulls together easily, but is fun to make as it has an unusual method–melting the butter and molasses together.  You add baking soda directly to the hot mix, causing this fragrant concoction to foam and bubble up furiously.  Speaking of which–make sure to have that baking soda all measured and ready to go:  you don’t want a sticky mess of molasses and butter spilling out of the pot while you’re looking for that 1/4 teaspoon measure.  Stir it down, let it cool a bit, and add in the remaining ingredients.

I have no idea what the purpose is behind this unusual set of steps, but it’s fun and I don’t have to get out the stand mixer, so I’ll go with it.

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (1 of 6)Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (2 of 6)

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (3 of 6)Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (4 of 6)

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (5 of 6)

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (6 of 6)

The cake is not overly sweet, but it is rich, which means that a dollop of tart (but admittedly also rich) creme fraiche on the side complements it quite well.

Gingerbread Cake, adapted from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Soft Molasses Gingerbread

Notes:  I used spelt flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour, but I’m certain you could easily use whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour as well.  And make sure to line your cake pan with parchment–like any good gingerbread cake, this is moist and sticky.  

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/3 c unsalted butter (80g), plus additional butter for greasing the pan
  • 1 3/4t baking soda
  • 1c buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1c all purpose flour (125g)
  • 1c spelt flour (125g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • pinch mace
  • pinch allspice
  • 1/2t salt

Preheat oven to 350F (175C).  Butter a 9″ round cake pan and line with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit.  (This cake is very dense and moist).

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and the molasses together, and heat until boiling.  Turn of the heat (and remove to a surface it won’t be too hard to clean up) and add the baking soda all at once.  Stir it down–it will froth and foam and bubble up for longer than you’d expect.

Allow to cool for a few minutes.  (You might prepare the pan now if you haven’t done so).  Add half of the flour, then the milk and egg, and then the remaining flour.  Pour into the prepared pan, and bake for about 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

Fannie Farmer's Gingerbread Cake (2 of 2)