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Gluten-Free Lebkuchen (German Christmas Cookies)

Posted Dec 17 2010 12:00am

Gluten-Free Lebkuchen (German Christmas Cookies)

One of my fondest Christmas childhood memories was ordering a giant chest of cookies from Lebkuchen Schmidt . I’m from Norwegian descent but we do love German cookies just as much as our own Christmas favorites. Every year my Grandma would order a tin and we’d eagerly travel to her house and make a beeline for the chest to see what she had opened on that particular day.

The cookies were soft and incredibly aromatic. Just bursting with all sorts of spices that as a child, I had no clue about. I just knew that they were VERY GOOD. Several different cookies had a chocolate coating (a top favorite for all us girls) and one in particular had a sweet apricot filling that was simply divine. I think that particular cookie was my most favorite.

From Wikipedia : Lebkuchen (or Pfefferkuchen) is a traditional German biscuit product baked for Christmas, somewhat resembling soft gingerbread. Lebkuchen were invented by Medieval monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm, and 1395 in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The latter being the most famous exporter today, of the product that is known as Nürnberger Lebkuchen (Nürnberg Lebkuchen). Historically, and due to differences in the ingredients, Lebkuchen is also known as honey cake or pepper cake. Traditionally, the cookies are usually quite large and may be four and a half inches in diameter if round, and larger if rectangular.

Once I was married and had my own family we started buying our own yearly chest and enjoyed nom’ing on these treats every Christmas. I will admit to hoarding these… I hate nuts so the ones with the nuts were immediately doled out to hubby and son. The remainder were mostly MINE MINE MINE. And sharing with others? Forget that idea! These things made my Christmas every year.

Until I could no longer eat them. Le sigh. Such a bummer on that first year of my gluten-free life when it dawned on me that the yearly chest of Lebkuchen cookies would not be possible. My supportive husband and son both agreed that they could forgo eating these as a show of loving support for my restricted diet. And so, the era of the Lebkuchen Christmas cookie was over in our house…

Lebkuchen Schmidt Christmas chest

So this year I set out, after many years of Lebkuchen famine, to create a gluten-free version that would hopefully be at least somewhat close to the real thing. Several google searches found a number of “normal” Lebkuchen recipes, but the gluten-free versions were few and far between and none really spoke to me. I finally decided to adapt a recipe I found in my original Betty Crocker cookbook. Betty Crocker has yet to let me down and if the cookie was in there, it had to be good.

The result is the recipe below. Delicious and at least in my mind, very similar to what I used to eat so many years ago. My husband on the other hand, has declared them “amazing” and “just like the real thing, if not even better!” High praise indeed from someone who can eat anything they’d like.

These cookies are supposed to be better with age. However, that statement assumes that the one doing the baking has the self-control not to eat them all immediately. I will do my best to make these last but the chances of any remaining for our annual Christmas-Eve feast is pretty slim. I’m thinking I should probably make a second batch, just to make sure.

Store in a tight container with a slice of orange or apple. Replace as it dries out – the storage and moisture from the fruit slices help “age” the cookies for an even more in-depth spicy flavor. They also become softer as they age… yummers!

Gluten-Free Lebkuchen
makes approx 20-24 cookies

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbls cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp baking soda
3 cups gluten-free flour blend (see below)
1 cup diced candied fruit
1/2 cup diced nuts (optional)

Glaze
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup powdered sugar

Cookies heat honey and molasses in microwave just until warm and honey thins out. Add to eggs, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and spices in a mixing bowl and mix with wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

Add flour and baking soda and stir until all flour is incorporated. Fold in diced candied fruit and nuts (if desired) and stir to combine.

Place into a large zip bag or other container and chill overnight or at least 10-12 hours.

Remove from frig and roll out on floured surface to no less than 1/2″ thick. (Too thin and they’ll be crunchy – these are supposed to be thicker and chewy soft.) Dough will be very sticky but you don’t want to work the flour in – because it is a looser dough, just a few rolls of the rolling pin is enough to get it to the proper thickness so just use enough flour to keep it from sticking to the pin and surface.

Place on parchment or silicone covered cookie sheets and bake at 400F for 10-11 minutes or until lightly browned and top is somewhat firm when touched. A small indent is OK.

Remove from heat and glaze while still warm.

While first batch is baking, make the glaze. Boil sugar and water over medium high heat until it reaches 225F on a candy thermometer, stirring as necessary to keep from scorching This should be around 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar. Beat with whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Brush over warm cookies.

If glaze hardens or crystalizes, return to heat for a few moments, adding a few drops of water to thin out.

Enjoy! And now I’m off to “test” another cookie and make sure they are still good.

Gluten-Free Flour blend
I used Tom Sawyer Gluten-Free Flour for this recipe but it can also be made with the following combination (or your favorite blend)…
2 cups superfine brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 1/4 tsp xanthan gum

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