Today’s International Baking Adventure is Lebkuchen Cookies — a German Christmas baking favorite! These soft, flourless cookies are filled with ground hazelnuts and almonds, candied citrus, and topped with chocolate or sugar glaze.
If you’re looking for an easy Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen recipe, keep reading to learn how to make these delicious German iced gingerbread Christmas cookies!
What is Lebkuchen?
- 0.1 What is Lebkuchen?
- 0.2 What is Nürnberger Lebkuchen (or Nuremberg Lebkuchen)?
- 0.3 What Spices are in Lebkuchen?
- 0.4 What are Lebkuchenherzen?
- 0.5 What’s the Origin of Lebkuchen?
- 0.6 What are Back Oblaten?
- 0.7 When are Lebkuchen Cookies Eaten?
- 0.8 Does Lebkuchen Always Have Chocolate?
- 0.9 Can I Buy Lebkuchen in the US?
- 0.10 What You Need to Make German Lebkuchen
- 0.11 How to Make German Lebkuchen Cookies
- 1 Easy German Lebkuchen Recipe
- 1.1 Ingredients
- 1.2 Instructions
- 1.3 Did you make this recipe?
Often referred to as Germany’s version of gingerbread, Lebkuchen is a scrumptious baked treat that has become part of every German home’s Christmas tradition.
There are different kinds of Lebkuchen in Germany. One kind, for example, is Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen — soft cookies dipped in sugar glaze or chocolate. Then there are the small heart-shaped cookies filled with jam and dipped in chocolate. And there are the large, hard, decorated Lebkuchen hearts (Lebkuchenherzen in German) found at Oktoberfest and Christmas markets.
Lebkuchen comes in various sizes, flavors, and textures, and is made with a variety of ingredients, mostly nuts and spices. You might also hear Lebkuchen locally referred to as Honigkuchen (honey cake) or Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake).
What is Nürnberger Lebkuchen (or Nuremberg Lebkuchen)?
Nürnberger is the most famous type of Lebkuchen. Also known as Elisenlebkuchen, it contains at least 25% nuts and less than 10% wheat flour (like my recipe, some contain no flour at all). For Lebkuchen to be considered Nürnberger Lebkuchen, it must be made in the Nürnberg (Nuremberg in English) area.
What Spices are in Lebkuchen?
Lebkuchen is often sugar and honey-sweetened, but what makes it even more special are the spices that give it a little more kick and flavor. These spices include cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and sometimes also allspice and mace. You can buy this spice mix or make it at home – keep reading for the recipe!
I make up both a Dutch Speculass Spice Mix and a German Lebkuchen Spice Mix and keep them in jars in my cupboard. Both mixes are delicious added to pancakes, waffles, french toast, breads, and even chocolate chip cookies!
What are Lebkuchenherzen?
Lebkuchenherzen (Gingerbread hearts in English) are heart-shaped Lebkuchen. Some are small chocolate-covered, jam-filled hearts, while others are much larger and decorated with intricate icing designs and lettering. The latter type of Lebkuchen is typically harder than other varieties and is found at Oktoberfest, Christmas markets, and festivals. They’re typically bought for fun rather than to eat.
I have a fondness for both kinds of Lebkuchenherzen! My German boyfriend bought me a big decorated Lebkuchenherz when I first arrived in Germany as a teen and I kept it for YEARS (it might actually still be in my parents’ garage).
And when I moved in with my German family, my host mom made me a welcome sign decorated with small jam-filled hearts. I think of both of them every time I see Lebkuchenherzen. 🙂
What’s the Origin of Lebkuchen?
This tasty delicacy traces its roots to the 13th Century medieval monks of Franconia, Germany. Over time, it grew popular within the region and had become staple bakery goods in Ulm and Nürnberg as early as 1296 and 1395 respectively.
What are Back Oblaten?
Oblaten are a thin round wafers that the Lebkuchen cookie dough is placed on before baking. Usually store-bought, Oblaten are considered an essential baking ingredient in Germany when making soft, round Lebkuchen cookies.
If, however, you want gluten-free cookies or don’t want to order Oblaten, you can simply bake the cookies on a Silpat mat or parchment.
When are Lebkuchen Cookies Eaten?
Lebkuchen Cookies are conventionally enjoyed during Christmas time, while you’ll find the larger heart-shaped variant at Oktoberfest, Christmas markets, and other festivals throughout the year.
Does Lebkuchen Always Have Chocolate?
Lebkuchen does not always have chocolate. Some cookies do but you’ll also find some plain and some glazed with sugar. And the large heart-shaped ones that are found during Oktoberfest and in Christmas markets are decorated with a stiff icing (and are more for decoration than eating).
Can I Buy Lebkuchen in the US?
You’ll typically find the small chocolate-covered, jam-filled hearts or the round glazed cookies at Aldi, World Market, and Amazon. The store-bought kind typically contains flour and so they’re a little different from the kind this recipe makes. (Personally, I prefer the homemade cookies!)
What You Need to Make German Lebkuchen
- Oblaten wafers (I ordered these in the 70mm size)
- Whole almonds (raw, unsalted)
- Whole hazelnuts (raw, unsalted)
- Candied zest (I use this instead of mixed peel — I share how to make this below)
- Lebkuchen Spice Mix(I share how to make this below)
- Baking powder
- Brown sugar
- Food processor
- Medium sized mixing bowl (or a stand mixer with paddle attachment)
- Small mixing bowls
- Cookie scoop (optional)
- Baking pan
- Silpat mat or parchment
- Wire rack
- Wax paper
- Pastry brush (optional)
How to Make German Lebkuchen Cookies
First, don’t be scared off by this long recipe! These cookies are actually very easy to make, there are just several steps.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s make cookies!
The first step is to order the Oblaten wafers. I got mine here on Amazon and they arrived in a day or two. These wafers form the bottom of your Lebkuchen cookies (you’ll spoon the cookie dough on top). You’ll get enough Oblaten to make several batches of cookies.
I used the larger 70mm size but you can buy them in a smaller size if you prefer. Just be sure to adjust the amount of cookie dough added to each wafer and the bake time.
If you can’t order Oblaten or don’t want to (I don’t think they’re gluten-free, for example), you can draw circles on parchment and use that as a guide for your cookies, or simply drop the cookie dough on a Silpat mat or parchment paper and bake them. Don’t let not having Oblaten stand in your way of making these cookies!
While you’re waiting for your Oblaten to arrive, you can:
- Make the Lebkuchen spice mix
- Make the candied zest
- Make the cookie dough
Then, when have your Oblaten you can bake and glaze your cookies!
How to Make the Lebkuchen Spice Mix
Add the following ground spices to a small jar or bowl (see recipe below for amounts):
- nutmeg (or mace)
Mix until well combined. Cover tightly and set aside.
How to Make the Candied Zest
I started using candied zest in place of the more traditional candied mixed peel in my German Stollen Bread because I couldn’t ever find any at my local grocery stores and I don’t have the patience to make it from scratch (maybe I’ll give it another go next year). 🙂
Candied zest works great in my Stollen, so I decided to use it in my Lebkuchen! Here’s how to make it (see recipe card for amounts):
- Wash the oranges and lemons (use organic if you can).
- Zest the citrus using a microplane.
- Heat water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium high heat.
- Add zest and stir.
- Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain out the liquid and let the candied zest cool in a small bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
How to Make the Lebkuchen Dough
If you’re waiting for your Oblaten to arrive, you can make the dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and store it in the fridge for a day or so. Some people always let their Lebkuchen dough rest in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours before baking. Others make their cookies right away. I’ve done both.
You can make the dough in a large-capacity food processor (I tried making it in my mini chopper but it was too small). Or you can just use a food processor to grind the nuts (my mini chopper worked great for that) and then mix the ingredients in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or just in a bowl with a whisk, spoon, and spatula. I found using a bowl, whisk, and a spatula the easiest.
First, use a food processor to grind the almonds and hazelnuts until they’re like crumbs. But be careful that you don’t grind so long that they turn into nut butter!
It’s ok if you have some larger nut chunks. They don’t all have to be the same size. Once ground, set the nuts aside.
Add the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt to a mixing bowl (or the food processor or the bowl of a stand mixer). Mix with a whisk or spoon until combined.
Add the candied zest and mix again.
Add the nuts and mix.
Add the spice mix and stir.
And then add the honey and mix again.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl, then add the eggs to the dough and mix again.
The dough should be pretty thick at this point.
At this stage you can cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. Or you can bake your cookies right away.
When you’re ready to bake your cookies, pre-head your oven to 325F/160C.
Place the Oblaten wafers on a lined baking tray.
If using the 70mm size, spoon 2 tablespoons dough onto the middle of each wafer. If your dough immediately flattens out and spills out over the wafer, add more ground nuts to thicken it up (try grinding another 1/4 to 1/2 cup).
Ideally you want the baked cookies to cover the entire wafer while keeping a domed shape. You can use lightly damp fingers to gently spread the dough towards the edge of the Oblaten. I just barely spread the dough towards the edges.
For the cookies you want to eat plain (no glaze), you can press almonds into the dough at this stage for a prettier design. I totally forgot to do that so my plain cookies are very plain (still tasty, though)!
I recommend baking one or two cookies to start with so you can see how they turn out. As they bake, they might spread over the wafer a little bit, but that’s ok. It’s also ok if the baked cookies don’t completely cover the wafer – just break that part off.
Bake the cookies for 20-22 minutes or until the edges are browned. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.
See the cookie in the upper left-hand corner in the photo below? I used damp fingers to spread out and shape the dough. You can see that the finished cookie is smoother than the others. If you’d like your cookies to be smoother, use that method.
How to Glaze the Cookies
While you can certainly enjoy your Lebkuchen fresh out of the oven (so good!), most people like to glaze the cookies with a chocolate and/or a sugar glaze. Why not try both!
To make the sugar glaze, add powdered sugar, water, vanilla extract, and rum extract (optional) to a small bowl. Mix well. Adjust the amount of powdered sugar and water as needed. The sugar glaze in the recipe below should be enough to glaze half of the cookies, so double it if you want to use it for all of the cookies.
Note – I experimented with a cooked sugar glaze but found it much harder to work with. I recommend using non-cooked powdered sugar glaze.
To make the chocolate glaze, chop the dark chocolate and add a bit of oil (vegetable, coconut, etc). Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave on 15-20 second intervals or in a double boiler on stove (or place a glass bowl over a saucepan that has simmering water it in). Stir frequently. When 3/4 of the chocolate has melted, simply keep stirring to melt the rest. If you want all of your cookies to have a chocolate glaze, double the recipe.
Use a pastry brush to apply the sugar or chocolate glaze to the top of the cookies. You can also dip the cookies in the glaze (I found it easiest to use the pastry brush).
Add almonds (whole blanched, slivered or sliced) to decorate the top of the cookies before glaze sets.
Let the glaze dry on the cookies for 12-24 hours (the cookies will remain soft on the inside). Store in an airtight container with wax paper between layers of cookies. They’ll keep for at least a couple weeks, longer in the freezer.