Christmas Treat — Lebkuchen Christmas Cookies

9 Dec

Many of my family traditions involve food. (See this earlier post about Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts.)  This food-focused sense of tradition is especially true around the holidays.  Christmas cookie baking was always a big deal growing up, and no Christmas season would be complete without a full complement of different cookie varieties.  And it wasn’t just the resulting sweets that made holiday cookies so special; it was the process of making the cookies itself.

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Every year around Christmas, just as school was letting out for break, my aunt and granddad (my grandfather on my mother’s side) would come for an extended visit.  At some point early on in that visit, me, my sister, my mom, and my aunt would spend a day or two crafting the Christmas cookies for that year.  While some of the varieties we made would vary from year to year, there was some staples that we always made: spritz, snowballs (better known as Russian tea cakes), and befitting of the German heritage on my mom’s side of the family, lebkuchen. (The recipe I have actually spells it lebkucken, but knowing a bit of German myself, I know that just can’t be right!)

Lebkuchen are a spiced cookie, sort of like a gingerbread—but a little more mild in flavor.  In my recipe, the flavor of the cookies comes from a combination of cinnamon, ground cloves, and honey.  So if you like spiced cookies generally, but you’re someone who finds the molasses flavor of traditional gingerbread a bit overpowering, then lebkuchen might be just the thing for you.

Cutting out a lebkuchen bear.  The dough is rather sticky, so make sure your counter is well floured!

Cutting out a lebkuchen bear. The dough is rather sticky, so make sure your counter is well floured!

The other fun thing about lebkuchen cookies is that they’re of the cut-out variety.  So you get to have all sorts of fun making different holiday shapes—limited only by your imagination and cookie cutter options.  We usually decorate them as well, although rather simply.  Most often the decoration is limited to colored sugar, or, in the case of the gingerbear shape, with red hots as hearts.  That last one of course inspired by the book The Gingerbears First Christmas. (Which, astoundingly, appears to be incredibly valuable.  Who knew?!)

Given their nostalgic value and the family tradition surrounding lebkuchen cookies, when it came time to decide what cookies to make for the cookie-swap at the December edition of Too Many Cooks at Wild Goose Creative, I knew that’s what I had to make.  (I also wrote about the Too Many Cooks featuring That Food Truck.) The other reason for choosing this recipe is that this is a pretty easy and straightforward recipe overall.

Creaming the shortening, sugar, and egg yolks.

Creaming the shortening, sugar, and egg yolks.

The recipe does dirty a lot of bowls though.  You have to cream the shortening, sugar, and egg yolks together separately. Then sift the flour—at least twice. And only then, gradually, add the flour and spices to the shortening, sugar, egg, and honey mixture.

Slowly adding the flour to the shortening, sugar, egg yolks, and honey.  Featuring two of the three bowls that this recipe dirties.

Slowly adding the flour to the shortening, sugar, egg yolks, and honey. Featuring two of the three bowls that this recipe dirties. (Photo credit to Tania for the awesome action shot.)

Also, the dough can be pretty sticky.  So make sure the surface you roll it out on is well floured.  The thinner the cookie, the harder it gets to get from the counter onto the cookie sheet.  Keep that in mind when deciding how thick to make your cookies.

Lebkuchen (or Lebkucken)

(Full recipe makes between 5 and 6 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutters you use. We almost always cut the following recipe in half.)

1 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

4 egg yolks

4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup honey

1. Cream shortening, sugar, egg yolks.

2. Sift flour, baking powder and spices 2 times.

3. Add honey to creamed mixture and stir, gradually adding flour mixture

4. Let dough stand overnight uncovered or chill in refrigerator.

5. Roll out on floured board to 1/8” thick. Cut.

6. Place on greased cookie sheets, bake at 350-375 degrees for 10 minutes or until delicate brown.

Cookies cut out and ready for the oven!

Cookies cut out and ready for the oven!

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5 Responses to “Christmas Treat — Lebkuchen Christmas Cookies”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Too Many Cooks Cookie Recipes « - December 10, 2012

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    […] food-related events that were worth blogging about.  I’ve already written about a few of those, lebkuchen cookies and Swedish rye bread for example.  But for every one blog I wrote, it seems like there were three […]

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