It’s been more than 100 years since my German ancestors arrived in the United States but traces of the Old Country remain in our recipe boxes. This recipe for lebkuchen, a German gingerbread, appears on two different cards in two different styles of handwriting, indicating that more than one person liked to make it! I remember my sister patiently snipping up raisins for the recipe each December.
The German version of lebkuchen (also called pfefferkuchen) goes back to medieval times. The spices had to be imported, so larger cities with strong trade ties had an advantage. My family must have discovered lebkuchen near Ulm, where they lived for many generations. In Nuremberg, the cookies became so popular that a guild of lebkuchen bakers formed in the 1600s.
My family’s version of lebkuchen has the texture of brownies with the complex flavor of a spice cookie, and no ginger whatsoever. Who knows whether it’s authentically German but it does qualify as a favorite taste of my past.
Family Lebkuchen (1930s)
Makes 36 bars
1 pound brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup nuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup citron (optional)
1/2 cup raisins, cut up
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
- Beat the eggs until light. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated.
- Sift together the spices, baking powder, flour and salt. Add to the egg mixture, stirring to incorporate. Then add the nuts, citron and raisins.
- Pour the batter into the pan. Bake approximately 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the glaze over the top while still warm. Cool fully before cutting into bars.
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Hot water, as needed
Place the sugar in a bowl. Mix in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Add hot water by the teaspoonful until the glaze is thin enough to drizzle across the top of the bars. Sprinkle with decorative sugar “pills” when the glaze is still warm if you want even more decoration.