Monday, December 05, 2005


Last fall, my neighbor Milton Gehlert invited me to make lebkuchen, a family Christmas cookie tradition during the 55 (so far!) years of marriage with wife Bobby and before that, with Bobby's mother and before that with her grandmother and before that with her greatgrandmother who was born in Germany.


After so many years, Bobby knows the recipe by heart but got it out for me. She makes a double batch for 7 - 8 dozen medium-sized cookies. Cherry laurel water is related to the illegal absinthe so is no longer sold in the U.S. so Bobby substitutes a simple white wine such as chablis.

First, she cooks the dough, starting with the brown sugar and honey. Keep stirring -- all the time -- you don't want this to burn!

Then add the baking soda -- Bobby recommends a fresh box. The mixture begins to puff and bubble and swell. Keep stirring -- really.

Milton practices good oversight!

Then stir in the almonds, citron, orange zest and spices, then the wine. And OH the house begins to smell so good, cloves and lemon and orange and wine and ...

When the mixture reaches the proper consistency, stir in the flour a bit at a time. Stir. Stir and stir some more.

And stir some more! By the end, this takes a good strong arm! The dough will still be a little sticky but more flour will be kneaded in.

Bobby's got three wooden boards that've been in the family for years. Here she dusts them with flour.

Knead some flour into the dough, then roll it out thin, maybe 3/8" thick. If it sticks, then it needs more flour.

With a floured knife, slice the dough into rough squares ...

... and transfer to the floured boards.

Let the unbaked cookies rest overnight. Tomorrow we bake!!


Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet, tapping them beforehand to dust off some of the flour.

Bake for about 10 minutes, when you lightly press the top of a cookie, it should spring back. The house will smell SO good while the baking's going on!

Transfer back to the ever-important wooden boards.

Lightly ice while the cookies are still warm.

Store and freeze in tins separated with layers of waxed paper.

And so? What do lebkuchen taste like? They're dense and sweet and chewy all at the same time, very satisfying, a cookie to savor in tiny bites, one at a time. They are -- as the Gehlert daughters and grandchildren will attest -- utterly, completely delicious.

How wonderful that traditions like this still survive..
I found your comment on the food whore's blog. I LOVE that you "let" someone "teach" you how to make these cookies. i make cookies for my family to show them how much i love them, but making cookies with so much history, love and devotion... well to quote the commercials... "priceless!!!" now i'm off to make some cookies while drinking a pepsi in a glass with lots of ice--a tradtion to me, but just something my mom always had when she baked ;)
What a lovely story of old traditions!!! Thanks for sharing it!
I am yet to try lebkuchen, but these would be quite different from Nordic peppercakes, which aren't chewy at all, just light and crispy.
I love this story, It reminds me Dad's mother.. ;)
I saw your comment on my blog, and had to run over here and see your Lebkuchens. They look fantastic! My recipe from my grandmother didn't have the overnight resting period. But, all in all, it looks so familiar.

By the way, I love the pic of the Gehlerts where he has his arm around her shoulder. That is priceless!
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