It has been said that no one does Christmas like the Germans!
And for those lucky people who have been able to experience the Bavarian region of Germany at this special time of year, you would agree. For those of you who have a serious bucket list going, then you MUST put this on your list: spending Christmas in Bavaria.
In 2015 I was blessed to be able to teach for one week in Bavaria at Landshut University and then spend one unforgettable week experiencing Christmas time in Bavaria with my husband. Some of the most memorable moments were spent at Germany’s famous Christmas markets and enjoying the incredible food — especially the traditional Lebkuchen gingerbread cookies.
You will find Christmas markets everywhere in Germany in December. It doesn’t matter if it is in a small village or a large city . . . there will be a wonderful market to experience!
The most famous of all German Christmas markets takes place in Nuremberg (shown above). Trust me, you will be blown away by the amazing array of local food, beverages, and crafts available for you to enjoy and to purchase either for yourself or as gifts. At the end of this post, I’ll a link for more information about this wonderful Christmas event.
But for now, I’m going to focus on a German Christmas specialty cookie like no other you’ll ever bite into. Lebkuchen — a German gingerbread cookie! Seriously, I saw these cookies in so many places and in so many sizes and shapes (yes, just look at the photos) that they just seemed so ‘ordinary’.
People were at every cookie stall to buy their beloved Lebkuchen!
So after going to a few Christmas markets during this trip, it was at the world-renowned Nuremberg “Christkindlmarkt“, that I finally thought, “I just have to try one of these cookies”! So I bought a cookie that a vendor kindly warmed up for me. Together my husband and I nibbled on this very large cookie while we mingled around the gigantic and seemingly endless outdoor Christmas market.
Our first taste of German Lebkuchen!
Oh my goodness, after just one bite into the soft, but chewy (like a brownie-texture inside) cookie, I was literally in a tug-of-war with my (German-American) husband over that cookie. It came down to: “Go get your own! This one’s MINE!”
Along with hot mugs of spiced Gluhwein and a plate full of sizzling grilled sausages, our tummies were content in the freezing temperatures of December in Germany!
Needless to say, we ended up buying several dozen cookies to pack home.
Now I KNOW why so many of these cookies were for sale . . . just look at the stacks of them in just one stall!
and more and more stalls with Lebkuchen cookies on display and for sale!
just everywhere . . . for good reason! You can’t eat just one of these cookies!
and available in a ridiculous amount of shapes! Some just as plain as could be and some decorated very festively with intricate detail!
This cookie decorating takes extreme patience, talent and lots of time for this amount of cookies!
Amidst the glow of soft lights in the dark of night, these colorful cookies were like Christmas ornaments themselves!
A little bit about German Lebkuchen:
These are German gingerbread cookies that have 100’s of family recipes to prepare them. The most famous of all hales from Nürnberg in Bavaria. Known for their crunchy exterior, but soft and chewy interior, the cookies are baked on ‘oblaten’ (thin wafers first used by monks in the 15th century to prevent the cookies from sticking to the baking pans). There is a high amount of nuts (almonds and hazelnuts) and it is essential to include candied lemon peel and marzipan.
Lebkuchen recipes first appeared in the 11th century in handwritten letters from a monastery in Bavaria. By the 14th century Lebkuchen were produced throughout Germany. It is the first cookie associated with the Christmas season.
Lebkuchen is usually soft, but a harder version is used to produce the large heart shaped cookies decorated with icing that are sold at German Christmas Markets and the witch houses of Hansel and Gretel the fairy tale. Nurnberger Lebkuchen must be produced within the city itself for authenticity and is a Protected Designation of Origin product of Germany.
The best recipe that I could find and replicate as close to the Nürnberg Lebkuchen is from Cathy of “Wives with Knives”. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon mace
- 2 ounces toasted almonds (or almond meal)
- 2 ounces toasted hazelnuts (or hazelnut flour)
- ½ cup diced good quality candied lemon peel
- 3 ounces almond paste, crumbled
- 3 large whole eggs
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoon milk
- Combine flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl. Place almonds and hazelnuts (or nut flours) in the bowl of a food processor. If using whole nuts, pulse until finely chopped. Add lemon peel and almond paste and pulse until finely chopped. Add eggs and brown sugar, pulse until well mixed. Add dry ingredients and pulse until combines. Refrigerate dough in a covered container for 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat. Place oblaten wafers 2 inches apart. Top with a spoonful of dough and decorate with almonds if desired. Refrigerate remaining dough. Bake until golden brown, about 14 minutes, rotating sheet half way through if your oven has a hot spot. Let cool completely ON BAKING SHEET on a wire rack (about 30 minutes). Shape and bake remaining dough.
- Make Glaze
- Mix powdered sugar and milk together in a small bowl. Place cooled cookies on a wire rack and pour glaze over them, and let them set until glaze is dry. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
- Spread nuts on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, checking often.
- Oblaten wafers come in several sizes, I chose the 70mm wafer and scooped the dough with the medium size (1-1/2-inch diameter) Pampered Chef ice cream scoop. The dough in this recipe is very soft and can’t be rolled or shaped.
- I purchase a special Lebkuchen Spice Blend at my local German market that I use in this recipe. If you have a good German deli in your area you might ask if they make their own spice blend.
For more information about the annual Nuremberg Christmas Market, click on this link: Nuremburg Christmas Market