Growing up in Germany, gingerbread (which we call Lebkuchen in German) was a mandatory part of the annual Christmas cookie plate. While we have countless different types of Lebkuchen in Germany, my favorite have always been Elisenlebkuchen.
Allegedly named after the daughter of a gingerbread baker from Nuremberg, Elisenlebkuchen are soft round gingerbread cookies baked on top of a thin Oblaten wafer. They are served either plain or covered with a thin layer of icing or dark chocolate and are sometimes decorated with whole almonds as well.
What distinguishes Elisenlebkuchen from other types of German gingerbread, and what makes them so special, is that they contain little to no flour. To be able to be called "Elisenlebkuchen," their total flour content must not exceed 10 percent (and they must contain at least 25 percent nuts). In fact, many bakeries pride themselves with not using any flour in their Elisenlebkuchen; instead, their primary ingredients are ground almonds and hazelnuts, which keep the Elisenlebkuchen wonderfully moist for weeks.
When I was in New York around Thanksgiving last year, I was excited to see many delicatessen stocking Elisenlebkuchen in beautifully decorated metal tins alongside Italian panettone and French yule Logs—until I saw just how expensive they were. Thankfully, it's straightforward to make Elisenlebkuchen at home.
Elisenlebkuchen have allegedly been around since at least the early 18th century and, as with any recipe this old, you will find a myriad of different variations: Some contain a small amount of flour, some call for honey to sweeten the dough, and others include marzipan. Below is my family’s recipe, which first came to us through my dad’s friend Jochen.
Before we get to the recipe itself, there are a couple of notes on ingredients:
Like any German gingerbread recipe, the recipe for Elisenlebkuchen relies on the Lebkuchen spice blend for flavor. The list of ingredients for this spice blend varies from household to household and manufacturer to manufacturer. The starting point is almost invariably a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise (with some blends heavier on the cinnamon than others), to which some or all of the following spices are added: allspice, anise, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cardamom, and coriander. Some also include ground dried citrus peel. A recipe for making your own blend is included below.
As for the Oblaten wafers, they are there to keep the cookies together given their little flour content and how soft they stay even once baked. Thankfully they are cheap and easily ordered online. They tend to come in three different sizes: 50, 70, and 90 millimeter. It does not matter what size you use for this recipe except that you will have to adjust the baking time accordingly (12 to 14 minutes for the smallest ones and 15 to 20 minutes for the bigger ones).
Makes 12 cookies
For the Lebkuchen spice blend:
20 grams ground cinnamon
1 whole star anise, ground
2 grams ground ginger
6 cloves, ground
2 grams ground mace
2 grams ground coriander
2 grams ground cardamom
For the Elisenlebkuchen:
100 grams sugar
160 grams candied citrus peel, chopped very finely
100 grams ground almonds
100 grams ground hazelnuts
4 teaspoons Lebkuchen spice blend (from above)
12 Oblaten wafers
2 to 3 tablespoons water
125 grams confectioners' sugar
1 handful blanched almonds, optional
Mix together all the ingredients for the Lebkuchen spice blend and set aside.
In a bowl, beat the sugar and the eggs until tripled in volume. Stir in the citrus peel, ground nuts, and spice blend until combined. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to rest overnight.
Preheat the oven to 320° F (160° C), line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper, and place the Oblaten on the tray. Using an ice cream scoop, place a scoop of the dough in the center of each Oblaten.
Using the back of a wet spoon, knife, or spatula, flatten the dough evenly all around the Oblaten and until the very edge of the wafer (the dough will barely spread in the oven), trying to ensure that the dough is a little bit thicker in the centre of the Oblaten and becomes thinner closer to the edge of the Oblaten.
Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are set but still soft in the middle and have barely started to brown around the edges. Leave them on the tray to cool down until they reach room temperature.
For the glaze, whisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into the confectioners' sugar until you have a thick but pourable glaze. Using a pastry brush, cover the Elisenlebkuchen with a thin layer of the glaze. Place the freshly glazed cookies on a cookie rack set atop some parchment paper to catch any excess glaze and wait for the glaze to harden. While the icing is still soft, you can decorate the Elisenlebkuchen with some blanched almonds.
Stored in a metal tin, the Elisenlebkuchen will keep for several weeks (and some argue they get even better with age, if you can resist eating them for that long!).
For the Lebkuchen spice blend:
- 20 grams ground cinnamon
- 1 whole star anise, ground
- 2 grams ground ginger
- 6 cloves, ground
- 2 grams ground mace
- 2 grams ground coriander
- 2 grams ground cardamom
For the Elisenlebkuchen:
- 2 eggs
- 100 grams granulated sugar
- 160 grams candied citrus peel, chopped very finely
- 100 grams ground almonds
- 100 grams ground hazelnuts
- 4 teaspoons Lebkuchen spice blend (from above)
- 12 Oblaten
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water
- 125 grams confectioners' sugar
- 1 handful blanched almonds, optional