German

How to Make Elisenlebkuchen: (Practically) Flourless German Gingerbread

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December  1, 2015

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.

Photo by Sophia Real

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.

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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.

Photo by Sophia Real

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.

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Top Comment:
“Biting into these heavenly treats brought tears to my eyes as the traditional German Christmas of my childhood returned to me. Thank you! ”
— Jen
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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).

Photo by Sophia Real

Elisenlebkuchen

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:

2 eggs
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

Photo by Sophia Real

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.

Photo by Sophia Real

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.

Photo by Sophia Real
Photo by Sophia Real

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.

Photo by Sophia Real

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!).

40 Comments

Jen December 26, 2017
Hi there. I just wanted to extend my sincerest thanks for sharing this recipe. I developed an intolerance to gluten and haven't been able to enjoy this Christmas favourite for so many years... until now! What an exceptional recipe! Biting into these heavenly treats brought tears to my eyes as the traditional German Christmas of my childhood returned to me. Thank you!
 
Jen December 26, 2017
Oh... and for those wanting a substitute for the Oblaten wafers, try 'Primus' or 'Tania' rice paper. Worked a treat!
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 26, 2017
Hi Jen, thanks so much for your comment - it made my day hearing how happy these made you!
 
Jen December 26, 2017
Thanks again, Sophia (from way down deep!).
 
Cathy November 27, 2017
I'm trying to find these Oblaten wafers in Canada but Amazon doesn't ship them here :( Any other ideas on where I might find these? Hoping to make these next week so not sure if I have time to find them beforehand. Will they still turn out if I don't use the wafers??
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. November 29, 2017
Hi Cathy - first things first: I would not recommend making these without the Oblaten wafers. The cookies are very soft once baked and I don't think they would hold together without the Oblaten wafers. <br /><br />I reached out to Luisa Weiss from the Wednesdaychef (and who wrote German Baking, largely aimed at the North-American market) and she sent me the following links:<br />https://gingerbread-world.com/products/hoch-back-oblaten-lebkuchen-baking-wafershttps://www.amazon.com/Back-Oblaten-Round-Wafer-100/dp/B00I97KA06<br />http://www.germandeli.com/Kchle-Back-Oblaten-50mm
 
Cathy December 4, 2017
Perfect, thanks! I found a store nearby that sells oblaten - all set! Last question: I don't have a spice grinder and don't want to mortar and pestle the star anise and cloves. Can you tell me how many teaspoons of each, ground, I'll need for the spice blend? I have ground aniseed and clove so hoping to use that instead. Just need the measurements. Thx!
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2017
Hi Cathy. I have just checked this in my own kitchen and 1 ground star anise equals 1/2 tsp and the six cloves once ground equal a 1/4 tsp. Hope that helps!
 
Cathy December 5, 2017
Fantastic! Thanks so much for the prompt feedback. Very excited to make these this week. Will report back!
 
jena December 4, 2016
Just ate tried the first ones: excellent. The doubled recipe yielded exactly 24 70 cm cookies.
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2017
So glad to hear this Jena!
 
jena December 4, 2016
I am actually in Germany but like this recipe from its ingredients the most! The dough is now resting in the fridge; I used a commercial "lebkuckengewurz," doubled the recipe and will cover half with chocolate (all 70 cm). I will let you know how it goes!
 
Alicefive September 11, 2016
So excited to see these! I always buy at Christmas but they are so incredibly expensive. And I have only been able to find a mixed package with half the package coated in chocolate. And while there is nothing wrong with chocolate I prefer the cookies without them . I can't wait to try these.
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2017
Interesting - I definitely have a weak spot for the chocolate coated ones but at home typically just make the glazed ones shown here.
 
Nicole H. December 29, 2015
I made these over the holiday and they turned out fantastic. I glazed them with both sugar and chocolate glaze. I doubled the recipe and still wish I had made more. My whole family, including my German grandmother, thought they were spot on. Thanks for sharing.
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2017
So happy to hear this and ecstatic even your German grandmother liked them - high praise indeed!
 
ABEE December 15, 2015
I just made these and they turned out perfectly. The spices are right on. Last year I bought NY-made Leckerlee which are fantastic but pricey -these are just as good and homemade. They'll make great gifts.
 
Nicole H. December 15, 2015
Thanks for sharing. I am making them this weekend and hope they turn out as well as yours!
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 16, 2015
ABEE thanks so much for the feedback! Glad to hear these turned out so well for you! I do remember spotting those beautiful tins from Leckerlee at Dean & Deluca last December - glad to know my family's recipe lives up to their version!
 
RW December 15, 2015
I second the request for volume measurements! I have a scale but do not trust its accuracy with the tiny quantity of spices.
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 18, 2015
I am not used to baking with volume measurements but there are plenty of conversion tables available online. As regards the spice mix, you can actually buy small spoon scales that are accurate down to fractions of 1 gram. They are inexpensive and a great kitchen tool to have if you enjoy preparing different spice mixes yourself.
 
Marianne A. December 4, 2015
Would you mind translating the grams to cups and teaspoons/tablespoons?<br />
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 18, 2015
Thanks Marianne, but I am not used to baking with volume measurements but I know there are plenty of conversion tables available online.
 
Lynell I. December 4, 2015
Awe, when I saw it was a flourless recipe I was excited because I have to be gluten free, but those wafers are most definitely not. Any GF substitutions that exist out there?
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2015
Hi Lynell. The wafer is important to keep these cookies from falling apart, especially the larger ones. It is possible to buy glutenfree wafers though (here for example: http://www.glutenfrei-supermarkt...). Alternatively you could try and bake smaller cookies (maybe a tablespoon worth of dough - just reduce the baking time accordingly) and cover the entire cookie (top and bottom) with the glaze to keep them from drying out. Hope that helps!
 
Lea December 4, 2015
Can I use fresh grated orange peel instead of candied orange peel? ?
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2015
I have not tried this and suspect the flavour would be different - the candied orange peel brings sweetness as well. That being said, you could always try it - I don't see why it would not result in a (slightly different) delicious cookie!
 
Stephanie December 4, 2015
<br />Can these be made without the wafers? I need it to be wheat-free...<br />
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2015
Hi Stephanie. The wafer is important to keep these cookies from falling apart, especially the larger ones. It is possible to buy glutenfree wafers though (here for example: http://www.glutenfrei-supermarkt.de/Backzutaten/oblaten/). Alternatively you could try and bake smaller cookies (maybe a tablespoon worth of dough - just reduce the baking time accordingly) and cover the entire cookie (top and bottom) with the glaze to keep them from drying out.
 
tery E. December 4, 2015
WARNING: The oblaten wafers are made from flour!
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 18, 2015
Thanks Tery. The fact these are typically referred to as 'flourless' or almost flourless (despite the wheat wafer) pre-dates our current obsession with all things gluten and our justified concerns for all sufferers of celiacs disease - back when these cookies were first made being able to say your cookies contained zero to no flour was regarded as giving them a badge of quality (since nuts were much more expensive than flour). But you are absolutely right, the wafer is certainly made from flour. Helpfully, you can actually order gluten-free oblaten wafers these days (if gluten is what you are concerned about).
 
Nicole H. December 4, 2015
I prefer the Lebkuchen covered with dark chocolate. Can I alter this recipe and swap out the glaze for melted chocolate?
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2015
Absolutely! I am quite partial to the chocolate ones myself. Just replace the glaze with tempered chocolate.
 
Kayla December 4, 2015
I SO love and miss these cookies from my holiday visits to Germany! Quick question-what is the measurement for the sugar? Also, where can one find Oblaten wafers in the U.S.? Thanks in advance!
 
Kayla December 4, 2015
I just found a recipe for the Oblaten Wafers: http://www.live-like-a-german.com/recipes/show/24/wafers-backoblaten
 
Nicole H. December 4, 2015
She does mention under the ingredient notes above that the wafers are available on Amazon. Happy baking.
 
Kayla December 4, 2015
Ah, I found her comment! Thank you so much for helping.<br />
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. December 4, 2015
Thanks for pointing out the typo in the ingredients - it should be 100g of sugar. I will get this fixed in the recipe.
 
Kayla November 9, 2016
Hey Sophia, <br /><br />I am planning on making this recipe for the holidays soon. I would like to make these with Ener-G egg replacer to make the cookies vegan. Would you see any concerns or tips for using this replacement? Thanks in advance for your help!
 
Author Comment
Sophia R. November 12, 2016
I have not yet tried making these with a vegan egg replacer but I would say it's worth trying. Given the high sugar content, the cookies should still hold together fairly well. Do let us know whether this works. I have been wondering whether it might be worth trying to replace the egg with aquafaba for example.