Elisenlebkuchen

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This year, I `m already under a Christmas spell. As soon as the first of December was in sight, the kids started crafting their wish lists, begged us to buy a Christmas tree and to open the boxes filled with ornaments and decorations. Now every day for them begins with a dash of excitement as they pick a daily dose of sweets and goodies from the advent calendar. With rising anticipation they wonder what will be under the Christmas tree on the 24th, and whether it will be père Noël or the German Christkind who delivers the gifts, or perhaps both? Who knows… Either way,  I love to see how at home French and German holiday traditions melt together, creating a special potpourri of future memories for our kids, to be treasured for a lifetime. The fondest Christmas memories are childhood memories after all.

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My own Christmas memories smell and taste like cinnamon, marzipan and gingerbread spice, the holy trinity of German holiday baking. My mother, my aunt and I have always had a special weakness for a variety of German gingerbread called Elisenlebkuchen. It´s an exquisitely soft lemon or chocolate glazed cookie made of almonds, candied orange & lemon peel, marzipan and the inimitable Lebkuchen spice. The name, by the way, derives from Elise or Elisabeth who is the patroness of the baker´s trade. Famous all over the world, Elisenlebkuchen originate from the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, and while I lived in nearby Munich, there was a small shop, opened only around Christmastime, that was exclusively dedicated to selling these special treats. I hear it still exists.

Here in Paris, my most craved Christmas cookies are out of reach, so I baked my own version, slightly paraphrasing the classic recipe. Mine come without the paper thin wafers called “Oblaten” that traditionally form the base of the Elisenlebkuchen, but as I couldn´t find them here, I just skipped them – no one I know is particularly fond of them anyway. Instead, I decorated my “Elises” with almonds, pistachios and candied fruit, saluting to mendiants, one of my favorite French confections. That´s what happens when French and German Christmas baking collide. The humble Elisenlebkuchen look a little more festive this way, and when if not now is the time to dress up?

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Elisenlebkuchen (makes about 20 small ones)
4 egg whites ( 140 g)
100 g grated marzipan
150 g ground almonds
60 g candied orange peel, finely chopped
60 g candied lemon peel, finely chopped
125 g sugar
10 g cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 pinch salt
30 g flour
½ tsp baking powder (or the same amount of hartshorn, if you have on hand)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1-11/2 tsp Lebkuchen spice mix (store bought or home made, see recipe below)

baking time: 15 minutes at 160°C/320 °F

Chop candied fruit into very small cubes. Grate the marzipan. In a bowl, add all dry ingredients, then the egg whites. Stir everything together using electric whisks, working at low speed.

Fill mixture into a ziplock bag, cut off the edge and pipe small circles onto a parchment paper lined baking tray.

Leave the gingerbread cookies to dry at ambient temperature for about 1.5 hours, or until the dough doesn´t feel sticky to the touch any longer.

Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. Leave to cool, then glaze with lemon or chocolate glaze and decorate with almonds and/or candied fruit.

decoration:
small handful of blanched almonds, and optional: unsalted pistachios and candied orange/lemon peel

lemon glaze:
As a rule of thumb, 4 tbsp lemon juice will require about 180-200 g confectioner´s sugar to make a nice and thick glaze. For the Elisenlebkuchen, the glaze should be opaque, but not too thick, so the gingerbread will shine through a little. Start by squeezing some juice into a high sided bowl, then add a few tbsp sugar, stirring until fully dissolved, alternating juice and sugar until you obtain your desired consistence.

optional: dark chocolate for glazing

Lebkuchen spice blend:

As I ran off of my gingerbread spice mix (a store bought blend by Schuhbeck, highly recommandable) somewhere between making several batches of Lebkuchen, I improvised my own blend with what I had on hand and was quite happy with it. Here is what I used :

3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mace
1 star anise
4 cloves
4 allspice grains, optional
½ tsp vanilla seeds, optional

Ground star anise and cloves (and allspice if using) using a pestle and mortar. In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients together.

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25 Comments

    1. Hello Nadia, thanks for asking, it´s a typo: I meant to say mace (Muskatblüte in German). I read it´s in the spice blend, and found it in my pantry. I guess I must have bought it some time 😉 … case of memory loss….

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    1. Please do, Jess – it´s one of those projects that are easy to make and very rewarding. The cookies taste sp good from the first moment (in contrast to other German Christmas cookies that are best after a few days/weeks)!

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    1. Guten Abend, Gerlinde (it´s 8.30 here)! So great to hear you stick to good old German Christmas cooking by even making the effort to order them. I have to admit, it never even occurred to me 😉 This recipe is easy to make – much easier than I thought – , and I guess you wouldn´t miss the Oblaten either!

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  1. I knew with a slightly pang of regret that my children were all grown up when the littlest joined her sisters in agreeing that the most important thing abut Christmas is not the presents, the decorations or the tree but rather the food. Of course if I missed out on any of the above there would be a mutiny but aged 30, 26, 24 and 21 they are all now in that adult state which is exactly as you describe …. Christmas is defined by tastes and smells more than anything. I love the sound of your biscuits and I know the kitchen would be filled with the right smells making them so I will give them a go … so pretty they are! And I note from the conversation with Nadia that I can use mace and nutmeg for the maci spice if I can’t find it!

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    1. mace , as nutmeg, seems to be part of the nutmeg tree. I had it at home as a grounded spice, so I googled it to find how it looks before being processed. It´s like a reddish net that enveloped the nutmeg fruit if I got it right. I don´t know if ground nutmeg will substitute mace well, so I guess I´d leave it out if I didn´t have it. Hope you´ll like the cookies – I had some friends over yesterday, and I can say they all were very delighted by them. Have a good sunday!

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      1. I am keen on Mace … years ago my husband went on and on about the perfect banana cake that his previous girlfriend had made. I made more and more banana loaves and each was declared not as good. I became a woman possessed with the holy grail of making this wretched cake and contacted Emily who laughed and said ‘I never make banana cake but I do make apple cake and my secret ingredient is mace’. I’ve made it ever since and sometimes with blackberries added. It is delicious and Mace is a wonderful spice!

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      2. What a wonderful anecdote! I´ve never used mace for any other recipe, was even surprised when I actually found it among my spices 🙂 Must try it next time with apple cake!

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    1. Thanks so much, Sandra! I prefer the lemon glazed ones as well – the chocolate version is just for my kids 🙂 Having had a good friend living in Australia for some years, I´m aware of the fact that you celebrate Christmas in summer, which sounds exiting, yet (honestly) somehow disturbing to me 😉 Gingerbread in the sun, I guess this will be a whole new experience to the Elisenlebkuchen ! I´m very happy you´ll add them to your festive table!

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    1. Merci, Michelle. The latter I´m sure you´ll have, too. I mean, with a new favorite butcher, what can go wrong? As of the former, I know the French are for some good reasons quite sensitive when it comes to German occupation, but so far no complaints 😉

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  2. WOnderful cookies, Gerlinde, and would have a hard time deciding between those glazed with lemon and those with chocolate. I’d just have to have one of each, I’m afraid. Love that you have tried to give your children Christmas memories that last a lifetime. If these cookies are any indication of the effort you put into your Christmas celebration, I doubt you have anything to worry about. 🙂

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