Monday, 23 December 2013

Lebkuchen

As Christmas is almost upon us, I decided to include another recipe for a biscuit that is very popular at this time of year. It is believed that lebkuchen was originally invented by German monks in the 13th Century. There is no hard and fast rule for the spice mix that is included in recipes for lebkuchen, but historically they always include ginger. Although the primary flavour is of is ginger, other spices are used, most usually cinnamon and nutmeg. I have experimented using different spices and the recipe that I give here is the one that I think achieves the best balance.
 
In addition to the spices mentioned above I have also included some ground cloves because I love their pungency but I do caution their judicious use, because if used excessively they are reminiscent of the mouthwash used in dental surgeries!

I also decided to include some freshly ground pepper in this recipe because I felt that it would add an extra spicy warmth to the finished biscuits. I was really pleased with how these biscuits turned out.

The real revelation was the inclusion of finely grated lemon rind. It accentuated the spiciness of the biscuits but also left a lingering fruity freshness. Ginger and lemon are classic bedfellows and I think that this is really proved here.

Due to the different spices that are sometimes used and because of regional variations, lebkuchen is also known as honigkuchen (honey cake) or pfefferkuchen (Pepper cake).

Lebkuchen is usually soft, but a harder version is made to produce the highly decorate lebkuchen heart shaped biscuits that are for sale all over Germany at Christmas time. The recipe that I give here produces a softish biscuit.
 

Ingredients:

115g dark brown muscovado sugar
85ml runny honey
30g butter
225g plain flour
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Generous pinch each of freshly ground pepper and ground cloves
Grated zest of half a lemon
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, beaten
50g ground almonds
Sugar glaze:
50g icing sugar
3-4 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
 

Method:

1. Make the dough the night before you intend to bake the biscuits.
2. Place the honey, butter and sugar in a large saucepan over a moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the butter and sugar have melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda together and mix into the melted butter and sugar mixture in two batches. Add the egg and lemon zest and mix well to fully incorporate. Then add the ground almonds and do the same.
4. The mixture will still appear to be quite sloppy, but will firm up after being chilled. Place the mixture into a bowl and cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight, but anything up to two days.
The following day:
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.
6. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll between two sheets of non-stick baking parchment until approximately ½cm thick. Use 5cm cookie cutters of your choice (I like to use plain circles).
7. Stamp out biscuits from the dough and place on the parchment-lined baking trays.
8. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and then remove from the oven. Allow to cool on the baking trays for about five minutes before removing to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Sugar glaze:
9. Mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together to form a quite liquid solution. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the glaze onto the biscuits. Repeat and then allow the glaze to dry completely. These biscuits will keep for quite a long time if stored in an air-tight tin – anything up to two weeks. 
 

Makes approximately 20 biscuits.