What is Lebkuchen?
Lebkuchen - pronounced LAYB-kue-chn - and sometimes called Pfefferkuchen is a German baked Christmas treat somewhat resembling gingerbread. Soft, moist and nutty German gingerbread was invented by medieval monks in Franconia,Germanyin the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in the city of Ulm and in 1395 in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The latter being the most famous exporter today of the product that is known as Nüremberger Lebkuchen (Nürnberger Lebkuchen).
The main ingredients for baking Lebkuchen are: Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Almonds, Candied Orange and Lemon Peel, Honey, Flour, Sugar, Eggs and Marzipan.
Add to these some exotic spices from all around the world (cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, coriander, ginger and mace) to make the Lebkuchen a special treat. Read more about the special spices in Lebkuchen here.
Lebkuchen is the general name for a variety of different cookies and pastries that are made with this combination of ingredients. Lebkuchen can be round or square or rectangular. The cookies can be glazed or not glazed. And if they are glazed it can be white or chocolate. Sometimes cocoa is mixed in with the dough for a rich chocolately Lebkuchen. Other times roasted apple or marzipan or cashews may be mixed in to add different flavours and textures.
Other traditional German Christmas treats that also fall under the umbrella of Lebkuchen: Stollen, a rich, sweet loaf, Dominosteine, Speculatius and there are other yummy pastries.
Where is the Lebkuchen made?
Gingerbread World imports Lebkuchen and pastries from three bakeries in Nuremberg:
Schmidt Lebkuchen – the bakery known for its fabulous assortment of decorative chests and tins. Schmidt has been baking premium quality Lebkuchen in the traditional ways for decades. Gingerbread World brings in a large order of Schmidt Lebkuchen fresh for the Christmas holiday season and ships to customers all over North America.
Fraunholz Lebkuchen - a family owned and operated wheat-free bakery in Nuremberg that provides our Gluten Free and Vegan Lebkuchen cookies.
Wicklein Lebkuchen – the oldest of the three brands, Wicklein has been around for almost four hundred years. We currently carry a small offering of some of their specialty cookies like Vanilla Crescents and Cinnamon Stars and their iconic Nutcracker Tin.
Why is "authentic Nuremberg" Lebkuchen (or "Nürnberger Lebkuchen") such a big deal?
History records Lebkuchen bakers in city of Nuremberg as early as 1395. Today's Lebkuchen bakers in Nuremberg are known for the highest quality pastries with the highest nut content. Emperor Friedrich III held a general assembly in Nuremberg in 1487 and invited the children of the city to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen bearing his printed portrait to almost four thousand kids. And with this in mind, Lebkuchen Schmidt offers its Kaiserlein biscuit - brown Lebkuchen coated with chocolate bearing an imprint of Friedrich.
Check out this short video on Nuremberg, Christmas and Lebkuchen
What do I drink and eat with Lebkuchen?
Like any other pastry, Lebkuchen is perfect with coffee or tea. But because of their spicy taste and nutty texture you may want to try them with a glass of wine and some grapes or figs - read about the wine pairing suggestions made by our friends at German Wines Canada. A special option would be to pair it with Glühwein - a traditional German mulled wine enjoyed at Christmas. I also enjoy crumbling the cookies over ice cream and drizzling on some liqueur like Frangelico to create an easy and very yummy dessert.
What is the difference between Oblaten Lebkuchen and Elisen Lebkuchen?
The difference between Oblaten Lebkuchen and Elisen Lebkuchen is mainly their respective oilseed contents, like hazelnuts or almonds. The German guidelines for Feine Backwaren (fine baked goods) regulate exactly the legal requirements for each recipe. With Oblaten Lebkuchen there is also a distinction between ‘normal’ Oblaten Lebkuchen with a minimum of 7% oilseed content and ‘premium’ Oblaten Lebkuchen with a minimum of 14% oilseed content. Schmidt only produces the high-quality Premium Oblaten Lebkuchen. Elisen Lebkuchen’s oilseed content must be at least 25% . Also, for Elisen quality Lebkuchen only so called “precious oilseeds" can be used. These are hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds.
Is there Gluten Free or Vegan Lebkuchen?
YES! At long last we have found a bakery that we trust to provide Gluten Free Lebkuchen without compromising any taste or quality. I visited the Fraunholz family owned and operated bakery in Nuremberg last summer and met the good folks there. Customers have been really impressed with the GF cookies and now we've added a Vegan Lebkuchen from Fraunholz as well.
What is that white papery thing on the bottom of the cookie?
That is called an Oblaten - German for a paper thin wafer. They may look familiar to anyone who has taken Communion in a Lutheran or Catholic Church. It is absolutely edible. I personally prefer to peel the wafer off the bottom of the cookie and set it aside. The wafer of non-GF Lebkuchen is made with flour so even if the Lebkuchen is made with "no wheat flour in the dough" the wafer is not Gluten Free.
How long can I store Lebkuchen?
The expiry date is printed on every single pack of Lebkuchen. Because Lebkuchen are ‘long storage pastries’ they can be kept for several months if stored correctly (in a rather cool and heat-protected spot where they have enough moisture). When kept longer than recommended they tend to be dry and lack freshness. Storing Lebkuchen in zip lock bags with a small piece of apple will keep the cookies soft. From September onwards, we guarantee that all products purchased with us won’t expire before March of the following year. The beautiful Lebkuchen Schmidt Chests and Tins available from Gingerbread World are ideal places to store your Christmas baking.
Can I freeze Lebkuchen?
Technically, Lebkuchen can be frozen in appropriate freezer bags. However, it is important that they are defrosted gently and slowly. The more gently this is done the softer and more succulent they will be once defrosted.
When will Lebkuchen be available in Canada?
Gingerbread World's Christmas Collections become available for pre-order in late August. Order early as we import only one shipment of Lebkuchen from Germany each Fall. The fresh Lebkuchen arrives in our warehouse at the end of October and we begin to ship it out right away (unless you've asked us to hold it back till closer to Christmas). You can expect to receive your packages toward the end of November before First Advent. For more information on Pre-Ordering from Gingerbread World click here.