The Bright Side of the Dark Time of Year

Plätzchen with copyright

For the Germans, the only time to bake “Plätzchen” is once it starts to get dark – in the sense of the dark time of the year, like now (more on that here: Advent: Fading Light and Candle Light).

(“Plätzchen” are to be distinguished from “Kekse” which – in this day and age – are seldom homemade and as such sanctioned for consumption all year round).

And no, I cannot explain the logic. I am not German 🙂

(But if there are any German readers out there who can, I would love to hear from you!)

In the Anglo-Saxon tradition we like a biscuit or two with our tea (or coffee) anytime of the day or year and when I come up with biscuits (homemade, always) here in Germany at any time other than pre-Xmas I get

“well-she-is-a-foreigner” looks or

“Yes, we make those at Christmas” comments intended to help me along with my social integration efforts… 🙂 (doesn’t stop them helping themselves mind you…)

But when the Germans do the homemade biscuit thing in the Festive Season, they do it properly… the names alone tell you that: Cinnamon Stars… Christmas Stars… Vanilla Crescents… Black-and-White Biscuits… Macaroons… Hazelnut Kisses… and of course:

Lebkuchen – an umbrella term covering a multitude of spicy, nut-based confections, some of which are related to the gingerbread for which the capital of Franconia – Nuremburg – is so famous and with which its streets are more or less paved at this time of year – in the figurative sense at least!

After many years in Bavaria/Franconia I now have my own personally tweaked Lebkuchen recipe – Hermann the German and Mini-Kraut love them so I must be something right…

And this year I was introduced to “Lebkuchenglocken” (“Lebkuchen bells”) for the first time – wooden moulds with a screw function for producing uniformly-domed lebkuchen (Ordnung muss sein 🙂  ), but you can make them without the moulds, using a knife dipped in water to create the domed effect.

Mini-Kraut and I put the Lebkuchenglocken to the test this year and were well-pleased with our efforts.

Lebkuchenglocke mit Teig with copyrightLebkuchenglocke mit Oblate with copyright 

Lebkuchenglocke lifted with copyright Lebkuchen ready for the oven with copyright

Lebkuchen finished with copyright

Here’s my tried, tested and tweaked recipe:

Lebkuchen

Makes about 24 Lebkuchen

For the dough:

100 g candied orange peel

2 medium eggs, separated

200g brown sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

Piece of fresh ginger, about 2-3 cm long, finely grated

Pinch of ground cloves

2-3 teaspoon of rum

1-2 teaspoons of lemon zest

125 g ground almonds, unblanched

1 pinch of baking powder

About 100g ground hazelnuts

For the sugar icing:

150 g icing sugar

2-4 teaspoons boiling water

For the chocolate covering:

150 g plain chocolate

2 teaspoons cooking oil

About 24 baking wafers (6cm diameter)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C.
  2. To make the dough, chop the candied orange peel very finely. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the sugar.
  3. Mix the ground almonds and the baking powder together. Add to the beaten egg whites together with the vanilla essence, grated ginger, ground cloves, rum and lemon juice and mix together. Add the ground hazelnuts but ensure that the mixture remains spreadable i.e. it should remain slightly moist.
  4. Place a level teaspoon of the dough on each baking wafer, then spread in a dome shape to cover the wafer using a knife dipped in water.
  5. Place the wafers on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to let them become too crispy – they must remain chewy.
  6. To make the sugar icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and combine with enough of the boiling water to produce a thick icing. Spread over half of the lebkuchen as soon as you take them out of the oven and then leave to cool.
  7. Leave the other half of the lebkuchen to cool while you make the chocolate icing: melt the chocolate together with the cooking oil over a very low heat. Use to coat the other half of the lebkuchen.
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