Except, I lie. Not one speck of ginger, fresh or dried, has come near these goodies. They are, in fact, genuine, honest-to-goodness German Lebkuchen. Yes, I know, I know, over here we call them gingerbread. So be it – as long as you keep in mind that ginger plays no part in it.
It’s a new recipe I tried from a cookbook I’ve had for a long time, and I’m very pleased with it. It tastes exactly like Lebkuchen should. Except for the texture – boughten Lebkuchen, the ones from Nuremberg (which is famous for them), are soft and kind of chewy, more of a cake texture; these things that I baked today went rock-hard once they cooled off, kind of like biscotti. I guess they’re dunkers. Put on a pot of Glühwein (mulled wine), or if you don’t want the booze, some spiced soft cider, and you’re in business. Aaah.
It’s the quintessential Christmas goodie, loaded with ingredients that for Germans are exotic imports, because they can’t be grown in north-central Europe. Almonds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg – things that come from the south.
And now they’re going into the cookie tin, the big one with the rounded lid, which years ago came in a Christmas parcel, filled with the real chocolate-glazed Nürnberger Lebkuchen. Of course, it’s the tin for keeping those gingerbread cookies in – just look at the picture on the lid! It shows exactly that kind of cookie, almonds and all. Baked by friendly little dwarfs, no less, who get the nuts from a squirrel family, take them home to their dwarfs’ cottage, bake them into gingerbread, and then take some back to the squirrels to share.
And just so you can share, too (maybe not with squirrels, but I’m sure you’ve got some friends who might be into it) here’s the recipe:
1 tsp baking powder
400g ground whole almonds
100g mixed candied peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp each cloves, nutmeg and allspice
1 egg yolk
80 blanched almonds
Beat the eggs with the sugar until foamy. Sift together flour and baking powder, mix with almonds and spices. Stir into the eggs and sugar, knead together into a firm dough. Wrap dough in tin foil or parchment paper; put in the fridge (or on your sub-zero-temperature deck) for two hours to rest.
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Roll dough on floured surface to 1cm thickness. Cut into 40 even-sized squares; put on a cookie sheet. Beat the egg yolk with a little bit of water. Brush squares with egg wash, decorate with one almond half in each corner (I used sliced almonds instead). Bake on the centre rack of the oven for 20 minutes or until light brown. Cool on racks. Store in Lebkuchen tin with pictures of friendly dwarfs on the outside. Defend from marauding family members so a few cookies are left until Christmas.
And as a bonus, here’s how I make Glühwein and/or mulled cider:
1 bottle of red wine, or 1 litre of apple juice
1 cinnamon stick
about half a dozen whole cloves
if using wine, about 1/4 c sugar (or more, to taste)
Put all ingredients together in a slow cooker or a pot on low heat. Simmer anywhere from 1hr to all afternoon. Serve in mugs. Perfect while shopping at the Christmas market with snow drifting down on you, or perhaps while going carolling. Or just for sitting by the fireside and dunking gingerbread into.
There you are. Life, the Universe, Gingerbread and Mulled Wine. Wassail!