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Christmas and Winter Holiday Cookies: German Lebkuchen AND Norwegian Christmas Cookies
Submitted by Pam on Mon, 11/25/2013 - 21:50
German Lebkuchen! Norwegian Christmas Cookies! Two completely different cookies so why are they together in one post? Because they love to be kept in an air tight tin till the holidays - gives them time to work their magic and become even tastier than they were when first baked. Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to bake them and then hide them in pretty Christmassy tins for a couple weeks.
RECIPES FOR LEBKUCHEN AND NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS COOKIES
Lebkuchen (from King Arthur Flour) : recipe here
Lebkuchen! Probably my sweetie's number one favorite holiday cookie!
I became curious about them as a very young mother and wife - beautiful cake like gingerbread cookie squares each presented with a beautifully detailed old world holiday themed sticker on top. But it took some time before I finally found a recipe that really works for my family.
Lebkuchen - known in Germany since the early 1200's, is a very dense, cake like gingerbread. In some cases firm enough to actually be used as the structural material in gingerbread houses - which is just how some of my earlier attempts turned out!
As honey is an important ingredient, Lebkuchen is also known as honey cake (or sometimes Pepperkuchen). The cookies - traditional fare during the holidays in Germany - are frequently baked quite large and intricately decorated. Most recipes call for candied fruits and nuts, warm, fragrant spices like cinnamon and cloves, and ginger - but usually no butter! The only fat is that found in egg yolks!
I am not sharing more than one recipe for Lebkuchen because when at long last I found this one, I never strayed! But if you are up for a little experimentation - here is one from Martha Stewart and another here from Brown Eyed Baker. They both sound interesting and I will be experimenting myself AFTER the holidays! For this holiday season however, I am sticking with my tried and true King Arthur Flour Lebkuchen!
What makes this recipe stand out? Well, certainly the brandy/powdered sugar glaze is a very nice touch! And crystalized ginger is used in place of candied fruit. Add to that the delicate scent of apple that permeates the bars during storage and - OMG how do I even describe the fragrance that hits you when the tin is opened? All I know is that if I could find a way to put the fragrance of a just opened tin on this blog, Gingerbreadsnowflakes would receive 5 million hits per second throughout the holiday season!!!
The cookies are indeed the texture of a dense - very dense, firm cake and yet they are oh so tender to bite into! And the flavors of ginger, spices, apple, citrus and - yes - brandy - play so nicely on your tongue you will find yourself reaching for another before you finish enjoying the first!
Basically the cookie is made by mixing a sticky honey, ginger-y spice-y dough, chilling it, rolling it into a rectangle and placing it in a 9x13 pan. Once baked, a glaze is spread on as soon as the cookie comes out of the oven.
Having made this recipe many, many times, I do have a few preparation notes and tips to share.
1. The recipe calls for mincing the crystalized ginger in a food processor. Without going into great detail describing the awful gooey messes I have had to deal with in the past during the execution of this step, I have hit on a solution that works like a charm!!!
The recipe calls for ground almonds as well as finely chopped ginger. First I cut the ginger into a few smaller pieces - then I simply start my food processor and while it is running add a handful of nuts, then some ginger pieces, then nuts then ginger then nuts then ginger…. When you have completed the process - you have a lovely, "not-sticky" mixture of ginger and nuts. Trust me - it works so much better than trying to deal with the ginger alone.
And did you know that Trader Joe's offers crystalized ginger without that suggery coating? We use it for everything! Even my sweetie's granola!
2. In place of the orange and lemon zest it is suggested that lemon and orange oils can be substituted. I used lemon oil and Fiora de Sicilia (orange and vanilla bit of heaven your can find here)
3. The dough is very, very sticky. I suggest you place it into a bowl sprayed with Pam before chilling. Spraying Pam on your hands will also help when handling the dough.
4. Before rolling the lebkuchen dough, line a 9 x 13 pan with heavy duty foil. (After baking, the foil can be simply lifted from the pan and then peeled away from the lebkuchen.)
5. Once chilled, the dough is rolled out to fit an 9x13 pan and placed into the bottom to bake. The instructions are quite clear that it is not a good idea to push and force the dough to fit into the pan. But if you roll your lebkuchen to measure 9 x 13 you may well find yourself doing exactly that!
Measure the bottom of your baking pan and roll your dough to fit THAT measurement. In my case, the bottom of my 9x13 pan actually measures 8 x 11 3/4.
Carefully lift your dough and place in the pan. It should fit nicely with very little adjustment necessary. (According to the recipe, all that pushing and squeezing to make a larger piece fit will result in tough bars.)
6. Be sure to brush on the glaze while the bars are hot. In my experience, it does take a few hours for the glaze to set. (Just so you know!)
7. Lebkuchen cuts easily into bars. I usually cut mine into bars measuring 1" x 2", layer them in a holiday tin with waxed paper between layers and leave a bit of room on the top layer for an apple slice. I usually wrap just a little wax paper over the apple to keep it from touching cookies near it but leave it open enough so the moisture and flavor can escape into the tin!
My sweetie begins sneaking bars the minute they are cut. But trust me - storage - even for a few days - does make them even better!!
If by chance during the holidays, you are serious need of Christmas Spirit - just open the tin and take in a deep breath. That should take care of it! Instant Christmas Spirit!
Norwegian Christmas Cookies (from Jan Van Pelt via Gourmet/Bon Appetite) : recipe here
In Norway, baking holiday cookies is a very BIG deal. It is traditional when guests visit during the holiday season to offer seven different kinds of cookies! And although I haven't yet met a Norwegian cookie I don't adore, I am pretty sure if this cookie is offered - it will be the first to disappear!!!
Light, crunchy, melt in your mouth, bite-size buttery sugary goodness! It is embarrassing how quickly we go through a batch of these delicious little cookies - especially considering a batch is somewhere around 12 dozen!
I know very little about this cookie other than what is shared with the recipe. Apparently Ms. Van Pelt was introduced to a tin while caring for plants in a friends absence and had a similar experience to what happens at our house - they dissappear!!!
They are really not dissimilar to a good shortbread - but also resemble a sugar cookie - very much a perfect cross actually. The dough takes only minutes to mix up and is chilled a few hours (or can be stored in the freezer). Once it is time to bake, the dough is rolled into tiny balls, and a crunchy little cluster of sugary goodness is placed in indentations on the top!
A perfect kid friendly cookie!
Notes about ingredients:
1. The recipe calls for two eggs - one for the dough and one to brush on the tops of the cookie balls. But I persistently seem to forget that bit and put both eggs into the batter! And actually, two eggs makes a better cookie!
2. The recipe calls for crushed sugar cubes or pearl sugar. I have always used large crystal sugar - until this year while making them for this post. This year I tried using pearl sugar. And now - I am soooo in love! Pearl sugar really makes these extra tasty. You can find it at most shops carrying cake and cookie decorating supplies or order on line here.
And a few process notes:
3. One thing you will most likely notice when reading over the recipe is that instead of creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding flour - a common method for assembling cookie dough - in this recipe the butter is added LAST - even AFTER the flour!
But believe me - mixing in the butter last is easier than you might expect, AND more importantly, it makes a significant difference in the quality of these cookies. You can take that from someone who has actually tried mixing this cookie using the "traditional" method! There is a direct correlation between mixing method and "speed of vanishment".
4. Try using the end of a fat wooden spoon handle to make the depressions in the cookies. Much more even than those that can be made with a thumb!
5. When making the egg wash topping, I find that beating the egg lightly results in globs of egg and globs of frustration! Beat that egg until it is nice and thin - no globs. Even a drop or two of water added is good.
6. A nice soft brush works much better than a stiff brush when brushing egg wash onto the cookie surface.
7. Store in an air tight tin for up to a month! We find that the flavor develops and improves (if that is possible) after these cookies sit in a tin for a week or two. (But they are also quite lovely right after baking - just ask the elf in charge of "cookie vanishment"!
Find more holiday cookie goodness, temptations and deliciousness right here in the Christmas and Winter Holiday Cookie Collection.