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Author Notes: These Elisenlebkuchen, the archetypal German gingerbread, hail from the Bavarian city of Nuremberg and are soft and chewy round cookies baked on thin wafers called Oblaten. They are flourless, studded with tiny pieces of candied citrus peel, and rich in ground nuts and almond paste, which help keep them moist and chewy. The lack of flour makes not only a delightfully textured cookie, but also one that keeps incredibly well—always an important characteristic of German holiday baking in general.
Compared to some of the other Lebkuchen varieties—which, due to their high honey content, have very stiff doughs that can be difficult to work with or need a ripening time of a few months (!)—Elisenlebkuchen are quite simple to make. If you have a pair of electric beaters and a big bowl, you've got all you need. (A stand mixer will make your life easier still, but is not essential.) The work of spreading the batter on the wafers and coating the finished Elisenlebkuchen with a glaze after baking is a little fussy, but the payoff is definitely worth it.
And best of all if you plan to give these away, the cookies taste best after at least a few days of ripening once baked, the spices and winey almond flavor intensifying. Their texture improves too, becoming almost juicy and addictively chewy. I like making these on the small side so that they can be eaten in one or two bites.
To make the Elisenlebkuchen you'll need Lebkuchengewürz, a spice mixture specifically for Christmastime baking (a recipe follows), candied citron and orange peel and thin baking wafers, all of which can be found online. (You can find baking wafers at edelweissimports.com, germandeli.com, germangrocery.com, or Amazon.)
Reprinted with permission from Classic German Baking (Ten Speed Press, 2016). —wednesdaychef
Makes about 5 dozen
- 5 eggs
- 1 3/4 (350g) granulated sugar
- 7 ounces (200g) almond paste
- 3 tablespoons Lebkuchengewürz (see below)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Grated peel of 1 organic lemon
- 2/3 cup (100g) candied orange peel, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup (100g) candied citron peel, finely chopped
- 2 lightly packed cups (200g) toasted, skinned, and ground hazelnuts, plus more if needed
- 2 lightly packed cups (200g) ground almonds, plus more if needed
- 2/3 cup (100g) blanched whole almonds, finely chopped
- Blanched almonds, split lengthwise (optional)
- 13 tablespoons (100g) confectioners’ sugar (optional)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water (optional)
- 7 ounces (200g) bittersweet chocolate (55% to 70% cacao; optional)
- 60 2-inch/5cm, or 10 2 3⁄4-inch/7cm baking wafers (optional but recommended!)
Lebkuchengewürz (Lebkuchen Spice Mix)
- 5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground mace
- 3/4 teaspoon ground aniseed
- Make the Lebkuchengewürz: This recipe makes about 1/2 cup (50g) spice mix, so you'll have some left over. It's a great all-purpose spice mix. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. Store in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Kept in a dark, cool place, the mix will stay fresh for 1 year.
- Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Grate the almond paste using the large holes of a box grater and add it to the eggs. Turn the mixer on and beat for several minutes, until well combined and frothy. With the motor still running, add the Lebkuchengewürz, salt, grated lemon peel, candied citron peel, candied orange peel, and all of the ground and chopped nuts. Mix until well combined.
- Using a paring knife, split the baking wafers in half. The inside surface will be gritty. Lay the wafers, smooth side down, on the prepared baking sheets. Using a small spoon or a palette knife, mound some of the batter neatly on each wafer. The batter should be very moist and spreadable, but it should also be able to hold its shape. If it’s too liquid, add a few more spoonsful of ground nuts to the batter and mix well. For the 2-inch/5cm wafers, you’ll need about 2 teaspoons of batter apiece; for the 23⁄4-inch/7cm wafers, about 3 tablespoons. Alternatively, you can fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip with the batter and pipe out rounds of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, skipping the wafers. Leave about 1⁄2 inch/12mm of space between the rounds of batter.
- For a traditional look, you can decorate half of the Elisenlebkuchen with blanched and split almonds, pressing 1 almond half lightly into the middle of each of the 2-inch/5cm rounds of batter, or pressing 3 lightly into the middle of each of the 23⁄4-inch/7cm rounds of batter. (These almond-topped Elisenlebkuchen should be left plain after baking or glazed with the sugar glaze. The unadorned Elisenlebkuchen can be coated with melted chocolate.)
- Place one baking sheet in the oven and bake until the Elisenlebkuchen are golden and slightly puffed, about 20 minutes for the 2-inch/5cm size and 25 to 27 minutes for the 23⁄4-inch/7cm size. Repeat the assembly with the remaining wafers and batter while the first batch bakes. Remove the first batch from the oven and cool on a rack. Bake the second batch.
- To make the decorations: If you wish to coat the cookies with a sugar glaze, they must still be hot, so while the cookies you want to glaze are baking in the oven, place the confectioners’ sugar and water in a small pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the water has mostly evaporated and the glaze is thick with big bubbles. Remove from the heat, timing this to coincide with taking the cookies out of the oven. Immediately brush each Elisenlebkuchen with a thin layer of the hot glaze. Double or halve the glaze quantities as needed.
- If you wish to coat the cookies with chocolate, the Elisenlebkuchen should be fully cooled. Coarsely chop the chocolate, place in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water, and melt, stirring, until smooth and glossy. Turn the undecorated cookies upside down and dip them evenly into the melted chocolate; let cool right-side up on a rack until set.
- When the glazed and chocolate-coated Elisenlebkuchen are set, store them in an airtight container, where they will keep for at least 2 months and up to 4 months.
- This recipe is a Community Pick!
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