Sunday, December 09, 2007

Perfect Storm Lebkuchen

First, readers, an apology. The last time I posted a lebkuchen recipe, there were omissions. I'm not sure the omissions would have rendered the lebkuchen inedible or even unpleasant, but they would have created something far short of the ideal. Rest assured that I am fully and suitably abashed.

Anyway, I baked up a batch of lebkuchen the other night two weeks ago, and they were the best I've ever made. You'll have to trust me that, prior clerical errors notwithstanding, the best lebkuchen I've ever made is an exceedingly high bar. I was beyond pleased.

I am not so humble as to take no credit for this achievement. There is, clearly, a certain amount of skill involved in the creation of lebkuchen-to-die-for. But there is also a not insignificant amount of chance. The luck factor begins with the candied orange peel. I candy orange peel every year, and I do my best to follow the same procedure, but the results are, shall we say, highly variable. The main problem is that when you candy orange peel and you get to the end of the process, you're treading a fine line between too dry and too moist. If you make the peel too dry, it's like a rock. You can still use it in baking, and it keeps for a good long time, but you can't just eat it. If you make the peel too moist, you run the risk of mold. Candying orange peel is not the sort of thing you do on a whim. Well, okay, I do it on a whim, but there are consequences. It's the sort of process that takes the better part of a day, and while for most of that time you don't have to do anything or even monitor all that carefully, there's still a lot of labor involved. Spending all that time and then coming back a few weeks later to find something green in your bag of orange is disappointing. You will understand that I am using understatement in that last sentence.

Anyway, the orange peel worked this year. It's really just right, and if there's a problem with it, it's that the peel is so tasty -- without being cloyingly sweet -- that it's difficult not to eat it as candy. Fortunately, I made a couple of quarts, so there's plenty for lebkuchen and other recipes with some left over for the occasional nibble.

In addition to having first-rate peel (I have tried, but I cannot bring myself to use the candied peel that comes from the supermarket. I have used it before and gotten very tasty lebkuchen, but lebkuchen are special to me, and they deserve the best I can give them.) to work with, I remembered to check all my stocks before starting this year, and I acquired the spices that I had been missing before.

Still, I almost didn't get the lebkuchen done because I had a devil of a time finding molasses. I will spare you my molasses jeremiad. I'm sure you can figure out for yourself the implications for Western civilization if we continue to be the sort of society where people can't find molasses because the supermarket decided it needed to stock six additional varieties of canned soup instead. I get that people use canned soup more often than they use molasses, but, well, if I go any farther down that road, I'll have to go back and remove that sentence about sparing you my molasses jeremiad.

Anyway. I gathered my spices and everything else. I used large quantities of almonds and candied orange peel, and I made the dough last weekend a couple weeks ago. Then I rolled, cut, and baked it Monday night last week. The recipe made 169 2.5" round cookies. I note the number so that I can say that it is either one more than fourteen dozen, or it's a bakers dozen of bakers dozens. In my case, it was seven sheets of 24 with a bit of dough left over.

Anyway, I did my best to take careful notes and include all the ingredients this time because I want to make them the same way next year.


1 cup molasses
1 cup honey
1.5 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 lemon
1 t. baking soda
3 cinnamon sticks
1 T. whole cloves
2 whole nutmegs
2 whole star anise
2 t. whole allspice
1 t. cardamom seed
1/4 c. cocoa powder
2 eggs
2 ounces crystallized ginger
3 cups whole almonds
2 cups candied orange peel
5.5 cups flour

Combine the molasses and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Zest and juice the lemon and reserve both.

Combine the spices in your spice grinder and grind them. Reserve.

Put the almonds, orange peel and ginger in the food processor and process until very finely chopped. Reserve.

Transfer the honey mixture to the bowl of your mixer. Add the brown sugar and mix until well combined. [Edited to say: add the eggs and mix well.] Add the lemon zest and juice, the spice mixture, the baking soda and the cocoa and mix well.

Add the nuts and fruits and mix well again.

Gradually add the flour to the mixture. You will have to do this part carefully to avoid having flour fly all over the place.

Scrape the dough out of the mixer bowl and onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to a week.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Working with a hunk of it at a time, roll the dough about a quarter inch thick and cut into rounds. Bake on lined sheets at 375 for about thirteen minutes. Remove from oven and glaze immediately. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

If your mixer is not large or if you don't like lebkuchen as much as I do, you can halve the recipe. The recipe I used as a point of departure is half as big as mine.

The dough does tend to be sticky, so don't be shy about using flour during the rolling.

In the past, I have used a boiled sugar glaze. This time, I made a glaze out of one cup of confectioners sugar mixed with a quarter cup of Grand Marnier. The glaze is not as pretty as the boiled sugar glaze, but it tastes better.

If you like, you can also coat the lebkuchen with a layer of melted chocolate before serving.