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Lebkuchen

Although this sweet treat didn’t actually originate in Germany, the country has been credited for developing Lebkuchen into the spicy cookie that is hugely popular every Christmas. Although the texture and sweetness can be likened to gingerbread, its translation as ‘German Gingerbread’ can be a little misleading, as not all Lebkuchen recipes contain this ingredient.

There may be variations in the ingredients, but you can expect traditional Lebkuchen to contain honey, a spice mix which could include cloves, ginger, coriander, cardamom, and allspice. The nutty flavour in Lebkuchen can be achieved by adding almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. The monks who originally started baking Lebkuchen are also credited with adding a thin wafer base to the cookies to prevent sticking; they certainly found a good alternative use for communion wafers, as this technique is still often used today.

Lebkuchen cookies are usually produced in round or rectangular shapes, although iced Lebkuchen hearts are also popular. The cookies can be packaged in cardboard ‘chests’ and plastic, or sold in decorated tins, which are often kept as collectors items.

Just like other traditional Christmas treats, Lebkuchen has a back story. Franconian monasteries were some of the earliest makers of the cookie, and nuns are said to have introduced the shapes of Lebkuchen that you can buy today.  Other early associations with Lebkuchen centre around Nuremburg from about 1395, where monks were found baking the product.  Ingredients to bake these cookies weren’t always readily available though, with seasonings often imported via established spice routes, mainly to the larger cities, who had established trade partnerships.  This is part of the reason Nuremburg has a reputation for baking Lebkuchen, which also led to the establishment of the Lekuchen Bakers Guild in 1643. Earlier records also link Lebkuchen to royalty, with Emperor Friedrich III inviting around 4 thousand children to an event, where he dished out Lebkuchen, emblazoned with his portrait of course!

Lebkuchen is now made by family run bakeries, right up to major national companies, and is sold in shops, and at Christmas Markets all over the country. It is also, of course, a traditional German product that is available all over the world for people to enjoy, although there’s nothing quite like the authentic version, eaten at a German Christmas Market.

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