Friday, December 23, 2011

Heirloom Week: Lebkuchen

 If any cookie spells tradition in the Brick house, it's a lightly-spiced 'gingerbread' cookie I first tasted at a coffee bar in Nuremberg, Germany, back in my college years. Lebkuchen may remind you of molasses cookies, but they're really a mix of honey, ground nuts and the ginger-related spices. In old times, monks would mix old honey (at least 6 months fermented) with flour, and let the mixture mellow for a few months before baking the cookies. I've tried this, as well, with success. So if your time is limited right now (who's isn't?), mix up the dough, then put it in the freezer. Roll out the cookies a month or two from now, instead, and enjoy them during a winter snowstorm. They're incredible, and worth the extra work.

(Thanks to Epicurious for this basic recipe)

For nut flour
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 oz)
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds (2 1/2 oz)
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

For cookies
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup mild honey
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fine-quality mixed candied fruit such as citron, orange, and lemon*
  • 4 (11 1/2- by 8 1/4-inch) sheets edible rice paper, cut with scissors into 32 (2 1/2-inch) rounds

For icing
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water

Make nut flour:
Finely grind nuts with remaining nut flour ingredients in a food processor.
Make dough:
Beat together brown sugar, honey, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in nut flour at low speed until just blended, then stir in candied fruit.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange rice-paper rounds, shiny sides down, on 2 large baking sheets. Roll level 2-tablespoon amounts of dough into balls with dampened hands, then put 1 on each paper round and flatten slightly (dough will spread to cover paper during baking).
Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until surface no longer appears wet, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.
Ice cookies:
Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl, then stir in water until smooth. Evenly brush tops of cooled cookies with icing. Let icing set, about 1 hour. 

* Available at Fauchon (212-308-5919) or The Baker's Catalogue (800-827-6836).
Cooks' note: • These cookies improve with age but icing will darken. If making ahead, do not ice until day of serving. Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container 1 month. 
   Editor's note: Instead of rice paper, the Germans use a round edible disk I heard described as 'gebaken.' Feel free to substitute these, instead. The cookies are also wonderful iced with melted bittersweet chocolate.

Lebkuchen hearts, Santas and other shapes are a favorite at
'Christ Kindl Markts' in Austria and Germany. Photo from Wikipedia; read more about Lebkuchen's origins here.

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