Europe sparkles in the winter and Christmas decorations are everywhere. It’s a magical time to travel even though there’s a chill in the air. I can’t help but reminisce about a river cruise we took in November and December of 2013 with AmaWaterways. Starting in Budapest, we floated up the Danube, disembarking to visit glittering Christmas Markets throughout German Bavaria and Austria ending in Prague. Stops included Melk, Vienna, Passau, Linz, Regensburg, Nürnberg, and a side trip to Salzburg. Vendors with German Gingerbread, sausages, dark chocolate, festive decorations, and yummy treats were everywhere set against old world buildings and cathedrals.
German Gingerbread, called Lebkuchen, is different than the gingerbread we typically find in American stores. For one thing, it doesn’t always contain ginger. Big rounds of sugary goodness are decorated with nuts and candied fruit. The recipe featured below even has Rum in the glaze although you can also use a liquor called Arrack, which is from the Middle East and Sri Lanka.
Lebkuchen originated in the towns of Franconia, Nürnberg, and Ulm in Germany during the 13th century and was invented by Monks. The emperor at the time, Friedrich III, invited almost four thousand children to a special event and presented Lebkuchen to them decorated with his portrait. Some German Gingerbread is sweet and some are spiced with aniseed, coriander, cloves, cardamom, or ginger. The ingredients are placed on large round wafers called Oblate.
Nowadays, in Nürnberg, bakeries keep their recipes a secret. Lebkuchen German Gingerbread has a protected designation of origin and must be produced inside the city to be official. A league was formed in 1643 called the “League of Lebkuchen-Bakers that created strict guidelines to preserve the tradition.
On our trip, we saw Lebkuchen hanging merrily in Christmas market stalls mostly in Germany but also in Austria. It’s such a wonderful experience to wander through the rows of decorated brown huts tasting savory sausages and sipping Glühwein. (hot mulled wine)
Photos of German – Austrian Christmas Market Vendors – Click on images to view full-size
Enjoy this recipe for authentic German Gingerbread and happy holidays!
- 3 eggs
- ½ lb sugar
- 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar
- ½ lb hazelnuts lightly toasted and ground
- ⅛ lb candied lemon rind, finely chopped
- ½ lb candied orange rind, finely chopped
- ¼ cup milk, lukewarm
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- 1 lemon rind grated
- round wafers approx 2 inches in diameter
- almonds peeled and halved
- candied lemon rind sliced
- 2 oz powdered sugar (sifted)
- 1-2 tsp hot water
- 2 Tbsp Rum
- In a heat resistant bowl, placed over a pot of boiling water, heat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla sugar until they are very foamy. The mixture should only get lukewarm at most.
- Take the bowl off the heat and add the hazelnuts, grated lemon rind, orange rind, milk, flour, cinnamon, cloves and grated lemon rind, mixing them carefully.
- Spread the mixture on the round wafers, keeping it approx ½ inch thick in the middle and sloping toward the sides.
- Decorate with the almond halves and sliced candied lemon rind.
- Let the rounds dry slightly before baking
- Bake them slowly (20 minutes) at 270 degrees F (You should be able to press the underside in slightly, or they may come out too dry)
- Mix the powdered sugar with the hot water and Rum
- Glaze the tops of the rounds with the mixture while they are still hot.
- Let the rounds cool and store them in a metal box.