German Gingerbread Cookies – One of Many Lebkuchen Delights
German Gingerbread Cookies. What a joy! There is nothing more seasonal than the spiced waft of their just-baked aroma at Christmas. The scent is both alluring and powerful, conjuring up images of log fires, mulled wine and German Christmas markets. And let’s face it, no-one does spiced gingerbread (also known as Lebkuchen) better than the Germans.
But what do you think of when you hear ‘Lebkuchen’? Do you visualise the beautiful colourfully-decorated huge hearts that hang on German Christmas food stalls? Or the soft and chewy, citrus-infused, nut and peel cookies set on wafer bases? Or perhaps you crave the peppery rounded iced domes of the Pfeffernüsse?
Whichever springs to mind will be right. Lebkuchen certainly appear to be diverse, with many regional variations. Indeed, the German foods website details no less than 22 traditional German Christmas Cookies, each of them uniquely different from the last. All however are spicy, aromatic and a delight to the senses.
Whether soft, firm, cut into shapes, flattened or rounded, Lebkuchen are the staple German gingerbread cookies synonymous with their Christmas markets. They also remain the frustration of Coeliacs and gluten-avoiders who are unable to eat most of them. Although a couple of varieties are naturally gluten free (being made purely with nut flours), most are not.
Frustrate no longer dear readers… below I share a wonderful and very easy de-glutened (and de-egg’d) recipe for these gorgeous cut and shaped gluten free German gingerbread cookies : Lebkuchenplätzchen.
What Makes German Gingerbread DiFFerent to Other Gingerbread?
Lebkuchen as we now know it, was first developed in Belgium in the 13th Century. Monks living in Franconia, Germany later adopted the recipe, from where it spread and morphed into the varieties available today. It would appear that not all gingerbread is equal however and if you have ever eaten it, you will know that German gingerbread has a sophistication that elevates it above your average gingerbread man. The question therefore has to be asked ‘what makes German gingerbread cookies different to those developed elsewhere’?
From an experiential perspective, the answer is relatively straight forward. Lebkuchen tend to be softer than the crunchy gingerbread biscuits we get in the UK and are arguably much more complex in flavour. Break this down further and we find two key differences :
- German gingerbread cookies are traditionally sweetened with honey rather than sugar.
- And despite the name, ginger is really not that important! In fact, it usually takes a bit of a back seat, with more exotic and earthy spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cloves and pepper taking front stage. Indeed, it is these spices that give the peppery-spicy kick which makes Lebkuchen both divine and memorable.
Why do You Get Spiced Gingerbread at Christmas?
Have you ever wondered why German gingerbread and other traditional spiced and fruited treats such as Mincemeat, Mince Pies, Mulled Wine and Christmas Cake became popular Christmas treats? It would be easy to assume that there is significance in the warming glow experienced from the spices on cold winter days. But if you head back far enough in history to the middle ages and beyond, the answer in fact lies in the cost and availability of the ingredients. Being expensive (and relying on exotic trading routes), spices became a celebratory treat reserved for Christmas indulgence. They have been identified with seasonal feasts ever since.
Gluten Free Lebkuchen – An Obsession
Before Coeliac, I adored Lebkuchen and would seek them out to devour as soon as the Christmas season opened. They were a bit of an obsession. Being unable to buy them gluten free was heart-breaking, but as with all favourite food deprivation, it simply forced my hand into making them.
This year, my obsession to create gluten free replicas of German Christmas cookies has been a little extreme. These particular lightly peppered Gingerbread Cookies are just one of 3 new recipes I have been working on. I will post a second shortly.
Being a perfectionist, I always strive to develop recipes which are as close to authentic or to their wheat-filled cousins as possible. I won’t stop until I have achieved both the flavour and texture that I recall from my non-Coeliac past. Whilst it can be difficult to be sure I have got there, my foodie memory remains good and hubby will always act as a cross-check. These Cookies hit the mark for both flavour and texture.
Are Gluten Free German Gingerbread Cookies Easy to Make?
You bet! Making the basic gingerbread dough is so simple the kids could do it. The tricky bit is having the patience to wait whilst the dough firms enough to roll easily. And that is something the kids may struggle with!
I have been keen to make this recipe as accessible as possible whilst sticking close to authenticity. As such, I have made my gluten free German gingerbread cookies eggless and also optional dairy free. I have nonetheless maintained the use of honey as the primary sweetener and have ensured the dough contains ground nuts (almonds) and credible spicing.
Although designed to be softer in texture, if allowed to dry at low heat, this gingerbread also makes a perfect egg-free sub for ‘housebuilding’. Check out my Gluten Free Christmas Gingerbread House if you want some ideas. They would also make perfect Christmas foodie gifts.
Without anymore waffle then, I offer you my recipe for gluten free German Gingerbread Cookies. As always, if you do make them, I would love to hear from you. And if you use social media, remember to take a photo, share and tag me in! It’s always a joy when you do…
Other Foodie Gift Ideas on Gluten Free Alchemist :
- Marzipan Chocolates (with a choice of Almond Marzipan, Orange Marzipan or Pistachio Marzipan)
- Christmas Spiced Star Biscuits (not Ginger)
- Blackcurrant & Dark Chocolate Macaron
- Apple & Blackberry Curd
- Brown-Sugared Pear & Ginger Preserve (perfect with cheese)
- Maple Shortbread (gluten free and vegan)
- Hazelnut Praline
- Raspberry & White Chocolate Macaron
- Italian Amaretti Cookies
- A Jar Full of Colourful Meringues
- Soft Nutty Cookie Mounds (Amaretti, Hazel-Chocolate or Pistachio)
- Dark & Decadent Chocolate Truffles
- Sugared Ginger Biscuits
- Healthier than Nutella Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
- Vanilla Marshmallow with Strawberry Swirl
- Toblerone Brownies
- Chewy Toffee Apple Cookies
- Vanilla Fudge
- Italian Baci Di Dama (Hazelnut Cookies – Ladies Kisses)
- Pistachio, Hazelnut, Apricot & Apple Biscotti
My Amazon Pics for this recipe (AD)
German Gingerbread Cookies (Lebkuchen 1)
- Kitchen scales
- large mixing bowl
- mixing spoon/spatula
- measuring spoons
- Small saucepan
- wooden/silicone spoon
- cling film (or baking paper to wrap and chill)
- baking sheets/trays
- baking paper
- Rolling Pin
- cookie cutter(s)
- small sieve
- flat-bottomed bowl
- wire rack
- a snowflake cutter (optional)
- 140 g plain gluten free flour blend preferably rice free Gluten Free Alchemist Blend B (see flours page for details)
- 40 g ground almonds/almond meal
- 1½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- good pinch fine ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp mixed spice you can up the amount to ½ tsp for stronger flavour
- ½ tsp GF baking powder
- ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 40 g butter/dairy free spread
- 90 g runny honey
- 25 g molasses (black treacle)
Fondant Snowflakes (optional)
- a little white fondant icing
- 1½ tsp icing (confectioners) sugar
- 170 g icing (confectioners) sugar
- 2 tbsp hot water or lemon juice or combination of the two
- Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, spices, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl until well blended.
- Weigh the butter/spread, honey and molasses into a small saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until melted and combined (do not allow to boil).
- Cool slightly before adding to the dry ingredients. Stir well until thoroughly combined. If still warm, set the bowl aside to cool.
- Tip the gingerbread dough onto a sheet of clingfilm/baking paper and wrap tightly into a ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 to 2 hours until cold and firm.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 C (fan)/170 C/325 F/Gas 3 and prepare the baking sheets by base-lining with baking paper.
- Cut the dough into thirds and lightly flour the work surface (I roll onto a piece of lightly floured baking paper). Take one piece of dough at a time, knead slightly, lightly flour the top and roll out to a thickness of 3 to 4mm.
- Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes and carefully place on to the prepared baking sheets, leaving a small gap between them. Repeat the knead and roll process until all the dough is used.
- For best results, chill the cut cookies in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.
- Bake for 11 to 12 minutes until the edges are just beginning to darken very slightly.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and leave to cool on the trays (they will firm up as they cool). For a firmer cookie, turn the oven down low and bake for a further 5 or so minutes, or turn it off and leave the cookies in there with the door closed, allowing the cookies to cool with the oven.
- Whilst the cookies are cooking and cooling, make the fondant snowflakes (if using). Lightly sprinkle a piece of baking paper with icing sugar to prevent sticking and roll the icing to about a thickness of 1mm.
- Cut out the snowflakes using your cutter and set aside.
- Once the cookies are cold, prepare your icing glaze. Sieve the icing sugar into a flat bottomed bowl and mix with the water/lemon juice a little at a time, until you have a smooth paste (you can use a tiny bit less or more liquid dependent on whether you want a thicker or clearer glaze).
- Working quickly, take each cookie and holding with your finger tips, dip the top surface into the icing glaze.
- Place on a wire rack (top side up) to allow any excess to drip off and for the icing to dry.
- Whilst the icing is still soft, top each cookie with a fondant snowflake (optional).
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