There are those few recipes that are so loaded with memories and childhood nostalgia that you really start to wonder if you are ready to share it with the rest of the world. For these are the recipes that truly deserve to be kept a family secret. My grandmother’s Lebkuchen is one of those rare recipes. Though I think the English term for Lebkuchen is gingerbread, it doesn’t feel right to call them that, since there isn’t actually any ginger involved. Try to think of it as the German variety. Different, but just as good.
When I grew up we lived with my grandparents, and every year in November my grandmother made Lebkuchen for St. Martin’s Day. St. Martin is a tradition here, celebrating a certain St. Martin who – as the legend goes – on a bitterly cold night met a beggar who was freezing to death and didn’t hesitate to cut his warm coat in two parts and share it with him, thus saving him from dying. To celebrate this children make colorful lanterns and go from door to door singing songs and getting sweets. It’s kind of a cute Halloween without the dressing up and blackmailing harmless people into giving you treats. Back then we lived in a suburb of Cologne, kind of like a little village, only instead of being surrounded by fields and forests we had the highway on one and another main road on the other side. The thing was that everybody knew everybody and you could cover more than half of the houses in one night.
Another fond memory and one of the few moments where I will actually get into „back in the olden days“ mood is that we used candles to light our lanterns. Today all I see is those little light bulbs swinging from side to side. Sure, using candles also meant that probably everyone remembers that one year when their lantern burnt down, but I also do believe that the charm of real candlelight totally made up for that one rather catastrophic night.
However, every year my grandmother made her Lebkuchen to give as a treat (instead of bought sweets or fruit) and I also remember people saying that this was their favorite treat to get. Unfortunately we never get St. Martin visitors here (or rather, one group of children in four years of living here), so there goes my chance of becoming equally famous. This hasn’t stopped me from getting the recipe from my aunt and making my first batch of Lebkuchen this year. My aunt told me that the recipe usually gets her about 1 1/2 baking trays, though I got exactly two trays out of it. I guess my trays are just a bit smaller. Two trays equals a lot of Lebkuchen, so I brought some to work for everyone to enjoy and still have a lot left. If you don’t plan on feeding everyone at the office, you should probably just use half the recipe and still have plenty of yummy pre-Christmas Lebkuchen to enjoy.
Note: Cups here do not refer to the standard American measurement, but rather ordinary coffee or tea cups, which I guess is about the same, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
300 g sugar
500 g honey
125 g butter
a pinch of salt
3 cups milk
1 cups strong coffee
about 1 kg flour (maybe more)
2 packages baking powder
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoons real cocoa
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole aniseed (as in not ground)
1 teaspoons ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C (about 350Â° F or gas mark 6).
The main thing about this recipe is that the difficulty – if there is any – rather lies in getting all the ingredients, not in the actual making of the dough. When my aunt gave me the recipe, handwritten on a piece of paper, half of page was a list of the ingredients, followed by two sentences.
This is a simple dough, so the first sentence was something along the line of: Mix it. I would add that if you’re going for the recipe exactly as written above (not half of it) you should probably go for the biggest bowl you have. Apart from that it’s as simple as that. Mix it. You want a smooth dough, so add some flour if it appears too liquid or some milk if it appears too solid.
Then prepare the tray(s), first buttering and then spreading it with flour (because this is how we did it in the olden days). Then spread the dough on it and you’re ready to go. Bake the Lebkuchen for about 30 to 45 minutes until they’re golden brown. Get it out of the oven, let cool, cut into squares and enjoy.