Orange. Lemon. Coriander. Ginger. Cocoa. Rum. Honey. Almonds. Many people would say all yummy things, yes? But have you ever put them all into one recipe? Specifically, a cookie recipe? Germany, YOU SO CRAZY. These German holiday cookies from Baked Occasions, called Lebkuchen, are the second-to-last recipe in the book for Baked Sunday Mornings. They include all these ingredients and more to make for a chewy, spicy, complex cookie that is similar to gingerbread, and yet different because of the unusual combination of flavors. Somehow it works– what a nice addition to a holiday cookie exchange or dessert table! Now, lest you think I’ve forgotten that it’s still summer, rest assured that it’s definitely August around here, so this isn’t necessarily the first recipe I’d reach for this month, but I’ll keep it in my pocket for December.
The cookies are not difficult to make, but the recipe could benefit from a bit of clarification. You’ll first make a spice mix called Lebkuchengewürz that consists of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, and ginger. The other dry ingredients include finely chopped almonds and a whopping ¾ cup candied orange peel, which both get mixed into the flour. I have a precious little stash of candied orange peel from Buon Italia in Chelsea Market in New York City, which is earmarked for Italian recipes; I didn’t have the heart to use it all up for a non-Italian recipe, so I used only half the quantity that the recipe calls for. I’m so glad that I did that, because the orange came through loud and clear, and I don’t think any more is necessary or better.
The method for this dough is quite different than a typical American cookie. You combine the honey, butter, and dark brown sugar in a saucepan and heat it until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. I had to use frozen butter since I was out in the fridge, so it took a while for the pieces to melt, thus my mixture was rapidly boiling, and then it took quite a while for it to cool– I had to use a bag of peas under the mixer bowl to cool the syrup. I wasn’t sure if this would be an issue for any reason, but fortunately it didn’t seem to affect the finished cookies.
To this you add the Lebkuchengewürz spice blend, egg yolk, cocoa powder, and lemon zest. Use the whisk attachment, not the paddle, to beat this until it becomes a smooth, dark chocolate-looking mixture. You’ll then combine the baking soda and rum, and whisk it into the batter. Now you’ll switch to the dough hook– see, not your average cookie dough! Add the dry mixture of flour, almonds, and candied orange peel, and work the dough just until combined. The dough was predictably different than any other cookie dough (I think) I’ve ever made. It was very chunky due to the almonds and orange bits, also quite thick, sticky, and shiny. I turned it out onto my board to knead it completely together, then roll it out, but there was a 0% chance of rolling out this dough. Even adding a little flour did not make anywhere close to a rolling dough. I decided to wrap it up and put it in the fridge for about 6 hours to firm up…
And I’m so glad I did! It was still not the easiest dough to roll, but because it doesn’t get rolled very thin, it worked out fine. The recipe calls for a 3″ cookie cutter, which sounded huge, so I opted for a 2″ size, and again, I was glad I did that. The cookies baked up without incident in 12 or 13 minutes (I forgot to write it down), perfectly round and with tiny crackles all over the top. The house smelled of gingerbread and I was happy. 🙂
The cocoa glaze is made by whisking together confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, milk, and vanilla. You dip the cooled cookies top-side-down, let the excess glaze drip off, then let them dry on a cookie sheet. (The only drawback to making smaller cookies is that I ran out of glaze at the end because there were more cookies than planned.) I felt that they needed a festive touch, so I sprinkled on some gold sanding sugar.
The shiny cookies were very pretty, but unfortunately the glaze turns a bit dull and grainy-looking when it dries. Still, I thought they were attractive especially with the gold sugar, and every single one was snapped up by my coworkers the next day. The complex gingerbread-like flavor is interesting and tasty, though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. They have a chewy, toothsome texture, and the cocoa glaze is a nice complement to the winter spices. I liked them, and I’d probably make them again with the same modifications.
Whether you want to save these for Christmas or throw tradition to the wind, the recipe for Lebkuchen from the “12 Days of Cookies” is located at Baked Sunday Mornings. Check out my fellow bakers’ German cookies too. It’s hard to believe, but our next recipe is the very last from this book!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.