You won’t believe how easy it is to make Lebkuchen, the delicious German gingerbread cookies. Loaded with nuts and infused with spices, these may be the best holiday treats you’ve ever baked. Whether you're a seasoned baker or a first-timer, let's create the perfect batch to fill your home with festive scents.
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Lebkuchen: German Gingerbread Cookies
Lebkuchen, originating from 13th-century German monasteries, features a slightly sticky dough baked on unleavened communion wafers. These gingerbread treats are especially popular during the Christmas season, and often packaged beautifully as holiday gifts. Like our stollen and vanillekipferl.
They are typically made with ground nuts (like almonds and hazelnuts), candied citrus peel (lemon and orange), a medley of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, etc), honey, eggs, and sugar.
These ingredients are combined to create a dense and flavorful dough, which is then shaped as cookies over paper-thin wafers known as oblaten. They are then baked, cooled and often topped with a chocolate glaze or a sugar glaze.
What are Elisenlebkuchen?
Elisenlebkuchen is a type of lebkuchen, known for its rich and decadent taste. The use of ground nuts in the dough contributes to its moisture and density, giving it a soft and chewy texture.
The history of Elisenlebkuchen, a popular variety of the German gingerbread cookie, dates back to the 19th century in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. It's important to note that traditional Elisenlebkuchen recipes abstain from using flour.
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- The best and most expensive type of lebkuchen are the elisenlebkuchen. The recipe here is for that variety, so you are getting the best and also an authentic one!
- Lebkuchen are so easy to make, you will wonder why this has not yet become a popular holiday baking choice here in USA. Considering that we have boxes of this treat, flooding the markets in the holiday season.
- They last long, get better with time, and are simply amazing to give as gifts. Using modern kitchen equipment, these can be made in large quantities.
- Homemade lebkuchen taste amazing. My husband who is from Germany, says they taste a lot more traditional than the store bought ones we get here in USA. Once you try the homemade version, there is no going back to buying.
- The ingredients are easily available. Even the oblaten wafers can be readily bought online.
Ingredients: What you need
Here are the key ingredients for making the German gingerbread delights.
- Lebkuchen Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürz): I use whole spices such as cinnamon, cloves, all spice, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander seeds, mace, star anise and ground ginger to make the spice blend. But you can also combine ground spice powders in the quantities listed.
- Whole Hazelnuts: Use high quality, shelled, and unsalted hazelnuts for exceptional flavor as we did for hazelnut gelato. You can find them online or at specialty stores, such as Costco and Trader Joes.
- Almond Meal or Whole Almonds: I found the almond meal at Trader Joes but it should be available at other high end grocery stores. Otherwise just grind whole almonds.
- Candied Orange Peel and Candied Lemon Peel: This is usually available around holiday times in most stores but you can easily make it at home. Candied citrus peel adds sweet and tangy notes to the Lebkuchen. Also, ensure they are finely chopped for even distribution in the dough.
- Flour: This is optional, but a small amount of all-purpose flour can aid in processing the nuts and candied citrus peel, by maintaining a dry consistency, preventing clumping, and ensuring a finely ground mixture. You can use gluten free flour as well.
- Eggs: I use room temperature large eggs, which help bind the mixture, provide essential moisture for soft and chewy Lebkuchen, and whip up to incorporate air for a fluffy texture.
- Brown Sugar: Packed brown sugar provides sweetness and moisture to the Lebkuchen.
- Honey: It adds sweetness and helps maintain moisture in the cookies.
- Orange Zest and Lemon Zest: Freshly grated zest from oranges and lemons contributes citrusy aromas and flavors to the dough.
- Vanilla Extract or Dr. Oetker Rum Extract (non-alcoholic): These extracts provide a depth of flavor. You can choose between the flavor based on preference.
- Salt: A small amount of salt enhances the sweetness and overall flavor.
- Backoblaten (30 to 40, round 70mm wafer papers): Oblaten are traditional paper-thin wafers that serve as the base for Lebkuchen. They are an essential part of the recipe and are also available in smaller 50mm or larger 90mm sizes. You can try communion wafers as a substitute if needed.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate: We need good-quality semi-sweet chocolate for making the glaze. Ghirardelli is a brand that I use sometimes.
- Coconut Oil: We mix this oil with the chocolate for the glaze. Adjust the amount to achieve the desired consistency.
- Powdered Sugar: This is used to create the sugar glaze. Adjust the liquid (lemon juice or water) for the desired glaze thickness.
- Lemon Juice or Water: Mix this with powdered sugar to create the glaze. Start with a smaller amount and add more if needed for the right consistency.
- Lebkuchen can be easily made with simple kitchen tools such as a butter knife and a wide glass to set the wafer on top. But if you can, try buying the wooden “lebkuchenglocke” seen in the pictures below.
- They are available online in various sizes - 4, 5, 7 and 9 cm. The 7 cm model will work for the 70 mm oblaten wafers, the most commonly found wafer size. This tool will help speed up the process of making professional looking lebkuchen and can be useful for crafting other delectable cookies.
How To Make Lebkuchen
**Here's a brief overview of the step-by-step process. For the complete lebkuchen recipe, please refer to the end of this blog post.
- Prepare the Spice Mix: Combine spices in grinder and grind into fine blend.
- Grind Hazelnuts and Almonds: Pulse hazelnuts in food processor. Add flour to prevent clumping. If not using almond meal, then finely grind almonds.
- Process Candied Citrus Peel: In a food processor, pulse candied peels. Use flour if needed to keep peels dry.
- Prepare Lebkuchen Mixture: Beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add honey and mix. Add ground nuts, candied peel mixture, orange zest, lemon zest, German gingerbread spice blend, vanilla extract, baking powder and salt. Combine to make the dough and refrigerate overnight.
- Baking Lebkuchen: Portion dough onto wafers and smooth it out into a mound (note 2 different ways of shaping the cookies). Bake until set and lightly browned. Cool on tray.
- Decorate: Arrange almond halves in the center of chocolate coated lebkuchen and let the glaze set. Store in airtight container.
Here are some helpful tips for perfecting your cookies.
Baking time: Monitor closely to avoid dry lebkuchen from over-baking or sinking in the center from under-baking. Oven times vary, but aim for 20 to 25 minutes. Look for a light brown edge and a risen center. Removing it too soon may cause the center to deflate.
Citrus peel: Orange peel and lemon peel should be chopped very very finely. Lightly dust these sticky ingredients with a bit of flour and ground hazelnuts to help reduce their stickiness.
Tools: To speed up the process of making these cookies, try using a small #20 ice cream scoop to portion the mixture or use a lebkuchenglocke (lebkuchen cookie mold).
Glaze: Dipping the lebkuchen in the glaze gives a smooth finish. You can use a brush to spread the glaze, but it will not be a smooth glaze.
- Using almond meal, almond flour or ground whole almonds: Almond meal is made from almonds that still have their skins, so it has a slightly coarser texture and nuttier flavor compared to almond flour. Using almond meal will give a more traditional texture, although almond flour is more easily available.
- Almond flour is made from blanched almonds (almonds with their skins removed), resulting in a smoother and finer texture. The Lebkuchen will have a more uniform crumb texture, milder flavor and lighter color.
- Finely ground whole almonds is a bit more work, but can give your Lebkuchen a rustic texture with tiny almond specks, which some people find appealing. It also adds a slight nutty flavor and chewy texture.
- Personally, I feel that using freshly ground whole nuts gives the best taste and are more moist, followed by using almond meal.
How To Serve
These cookies are traditional for the holiday season, but with this lebkuchen recipe, you can make it year round and honestly are way better than most store bought versions.
- Presentation: Arrange these cookies on decorative platters. Add some whole spices, sprigs of herbs, elegant tableware and twinkling lights around the table for a festive look.
- Beverages: These holiday cookies pair wonderfully with a variety of hot and cold beverages. Serve them with a steaming cup of coffee, a cozy mug of healthy hot chocolate, or a fragrant saffron tea.
- Sharing and Gifting: Lebkuchen make wonderful gifts for friends and loved ones. Package them in decorative boxes or tins, tied with festive ribbons.
- Dessert Platter: Include these as part of a dessert platter during gatherings. They can be paired with other sweet treats like linzer torte, fruitcake, marzipan, or assorted cookies.
- These are ideal for make-ahead preparation and you can do it in steps. You can measure the ingredients and have it ready. Then make the dough and refrigerate for another day.
- Bake and keep the cookies to decorate a day later, but make sure to store in airtight container to prevent drying out. Keep the glazing and decorating to the last, just before serving or packing for gifts. This ensures that the glaze stays fresh and visually appealing.
- Store fully baked and glazed Lebkuchen in an airtight container at room temperature. These can stay fresh for 3 to 4 weeks. They tend to improve in flavor and texture over time, making them an ideal make-ahead treat for the holidays.
- Lebkuchen can be frozen for longer-term storage. Place them in an airtight container, separated by parchment paper to prevent sticking. Thaw them at room temperature before serving.
This lebkuchen recipe is vegetarian and relatively low in sodium. There are several variations of lebkuchen, featuring different nut combinations, spice blends, and even creative additions such as marzipan, grated apples, or luscious chocolate coatings.
While I've sampled different variations from renowned Nuremberg bakeries, I must confess that my heart belongs to the traditional and authentic lebkuchen, which this recipe faithfully replicates. However, I also have a soft spot for the variations with extra nuts.
Some ideas you could try are as follows, but I have not tested all of them:
- Change up the decoration: The traditional version is plain or with almond halves on top. Try decorating with little sugar stars, finely chopped nuts, crushed praline, toasted coconut, chocolate sprinkles etc.
- Marzipan twist: Add some chopped marzipan pieces but make sure the pieces are small enough so that it doesn’t weight down the dough. You could even try placing a flattened piece of marzipan in the center of the cookie.
- Smaller size: Create mini lebkuchen using smaller oblaten wafers or cutting them into bite-sized squares or rectangles.
- White chocolate topping: Try dipping the lebkuchen in white chocolate and drizzle dark chocolate on it.
- Flavors: Vanilla is a classic flavor, but you can try a hint of almond extract, or even coffee for distinctive undertones in your Lebkuchen.
- Other Nuts: While almonds and hazelnuts are traditional, you can try combining with other nuts like cashews, pistachios or macadamia.
- Dried Fruits: Enhance the flavor and texture by adding dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, apricots, or figs. Chop them finely and fold them into the dough for bursts of sweetness.
- Nut-Free: If allergies are a concern, try to replace the nuts with ground seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or a combination of ground oats and coconut.
- Gluten-Free: Ensure all ingredients are gluten-free, especially the spices and candied peel. Be sure to use gluten-free flour. Skip the oblaten wafers and glaze the bottom of the cookies instead.
- Dairy-Free and Soy-Free: Be sure to check the ingredient lists on the products used, for any dairy or soy based components, especially in the chocolate bars.
Here are some frequently asked questions about this lebkuchen recipe.
The wafer base, known as "oblaten," provides structure to lebkuchen and prevents them from sticking to the baking sheet. It's an integral part of the traditional recipe, but if unavailable, you can use alternatives like communion wafers.
To prevent dryness, avoid over-baking; Lebkuchen should have a slightly soft and moist center when done. To prevent them from becoming too soft, ensure they are fully cooled before storing in an airtight container. Another tip is to keep some apple peels in between the lebkuchen, but separated with parchment paper. I have not tried this last tip yet.
Though you can technically omit the wafers, my husband who is from Germany, says that they are integral to the authentic taste of lebkuchen. If you choose to go without wafers, shape and bake the cookies on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper coated with cooking spray, then glaze them on all sides.
The easiest way is to use a lebkuchenglocke (cookie mold), described in the "equipment" section above. Alternatively, place a 70mm oblaten wafer atop a round glass of the same size. Spoon 3 tablespoons of mixture onto the wafer, then use a wet butter knife to form round mounds, thicker in the center and thinner at the edges.
More Cookie Recipes
★ DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? PLEASE COMMENT AND GIVE IT A STAR RATING BELOW!
- 1¾ cups whole hazelnuts or hazelnut meal 250g
- 1 to 2 tablespoons flour optional, use gluten-free if needed
- 2½ cups almond meal or almonds, 250g
- ½ cup candied orange peel 120g
- ½ cup candied lemon peel 120g
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1¼ cups brown sugar packed, 250 grams
- ¼ cup honey
- 1½ teaspoons orange zest
- 1½ teaspoons lemon zest
- 1½ tablespoons German gingerbread spice from above, see notes for substitute
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract or Dr. Oetker rum extract (non-alcoholic)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 30 to 40 oblaten wafers round 70mm baking wafers, see notes for substitute
Prepare the Spice Blend
- Use a spice grinder to combine cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, ground ginger, mace, and star anise spikes. Grind them into a fine spice blend and set it aside.
Grind the Nuts and Candied Peel
- In a food processor, finely grind the hazelnuts, pulsing intermittently to prevent a paste-like consistency. To prevent clumping, add a bit of flour towards the end of processing. Transfer this to a medium mixing bowl.
- If you are not using almond meal, similarly grind the almonds in the food processor until finely ground and add them to the hazelnut mixture.
- In the same food processor, process the candied orange peel and candied lemon peel until finely ground, using short pulses. If needed, sprinkle some flour to keep the candied peel dry. Transfer to the bowl.
Prepare the Dough
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer), combine eggs and brown sugar. Beat for about 15 minutes at medium speed until the mixture turns white, fluffy, and doubles in volume. Then, add honey and whisk until well combined.
- Switch to a paddle attachment on your mixer. Add the ground nuts, candied peel mixture, orange zest, lemon zest, German gingerbread spice blend, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt. Mix at medium speed until fully combined.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate the batter for 12 to 24 hours. After refrigeration, the nuts will have absorbed moisture, making the mixture easy to shape. If it remains sticky, simply stir and return it to the refrigerator until the nuts have fully absorbed the moisture.
Preheat and Shape
- Preheat the oven to 320°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Scoop 3 tablespoons of the mixture onto the oblaten wafers using a spoon or small ice cream scoop. With a knife dipped in water, gently flatten the top into a mound, covering the entire circle. Ensure the dough is thicker in the center and tapers towards the edges.
- Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Decorate some cookies with three almond halves in the center before baking. These will be used for the sugar glaze.
- Bake for approximately 20 to 24 minutes, until the Lebkuchen are set but still slightly soft and moist in the middle and lightly browned around the edges. Ensure not to over-bake or under-bake. When tested with a cake tester, the crumb should still be slightly moist in the center, but not wet. Allow them to cool completely on the tray.
Glaze and Decoration
- In a microwave or a bowl over steaming water, melt the chocolate and stir in coconut oil to create a smooth and spreadable mixture.
- Mix powdered sugar with lemon juice or water until it forms a paste-like consistency—neither too runny nor too thick. Begin with less liquid and add more if needed.
- Dip the Lebkuchen with almond decoration in the sugar glaze and the rest in chocolate.
- Pierce the back of the cooled Lebkuchen with a thin fork and dip the curved side into the melted chocolate or sugar glaze, ensuring full coverage. Warm up the chocolate if it thickens.
- Let excess glaze drip back into the bowl while holding the fork over the edge. Place the glazed Lebkuchen flat side down on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Immediately decorate each chocolate-coated Lebkuchen with three almond halves in the center and let the glaze set completely.
- Store your delicious Lebkuchen in an airtight container at room temperature, placing parchment paper between layers.
- Use weight measures for precision, especially when substituting ingredients like almonds or hazelnut meal.
- You can create the spice blend by combining ½ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander seeds, cardamom, ginger, and ¼ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, mace, and star anise.
- If using whole ground almonds instead of almond meal, the mixture may be bit thinner, but extended soaking time will allow the nuts to absorb all the moisture.
- Glaze: The type of liquid you use in the glaze will affect its appearance - water for a clear glaze, milk for an opaque glaze, and heavy cream for a white glaze. Lemon juice adds a delightful flavor.
- While oblaten wafers are readily available online, communion wafers can serve as a substitute if necessary.
- Baking tip: Monitor closely to avoid dry lebkuchen from over-baking or sinking in the center from under-baking. Oven times vary, but aim for 20 to 25 minutes. Look for a light brown edge and a risen center. Removing it too soon may cause the center to deflate.
- Nutritional information is approximate, based on the sugar-glazed variety, and does not account for the wafers.