My 95-year-old Grandmother has not been well lately passed away Saturday 29 December in the USA, which had me thinking of all of the wonderful times we had cooking together. I owe a lot of my cooking skills to her. She encouraged me to take cooking lessons and taught me how to make all of the family holiday recipes. During December, we always baked all of the special goodies for family near and far. Family would always come to visit during the Christmas vacation, and even though we did not celebrate Christmas, we always had special goodies around, such as her chocolate cake, 1-2-3-4 cake, her amazing butter cookies, Rose’s apricot tarts, and her schnecken. But the baked goods that she always looked forward to was the big package of German goodies that family friends in Germany sent my grandparents. The package came from the famous Lebkuchen Schmidt bakery in Nürnberg. She would open the package and take a deep whiff, and then delicately open the packages. We would stand there in excitement smelling the spicey goodness and salivating, waiting to take a bite of the lovely Elisen lebkuchen and speculaas cookies. You could smell the cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg all over the house.
I usually buy lebkuchen when I am in Germany, but this year I was unable to make a trip there before Christmas, so I decided to do the impossible and try to make some myself. I knew that they would not be as good as Lebkuchen Schmidt, who have been making these amazing biscuits since 1927. My first attempt resulted in overbaked biscuits because I had spread the dough too thin on the oblaten wafer. However, the second time round I managed to get it right and even my famously critical other half drooled every time he came close to one. I decided to leave my lebkuchen natural and used square oblaten instead of round. If you cannot find oblaten wafers, which are similar to communion wafers, then use rice paper.
I couldn’t find candied orange, so I made it myself using thick-skinned navel oranges.
Mama, I made these for you and if I didn’t live so far away, I would have brought you some to savour.
470 g (2-1/3 cups) sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla sugar
400 g (14 ounces) hazelnuts (one-half milled rough and the other fine)
80g (3 ounces) whole almonds, finely chopped
50 g (1.7 ounces) roughly chopped walnuts
100 g (3.5 ounces) of finely cut candied orange and lemon peel respectively
Freshly grated untreated orange and lemon peel
1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger root in syrup
1 teaspoon of the following milled spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, mace, cardamom, nutmeg
2 packets of oblaten wafers (5 cm (2 inches) diameter)
130 g (1 cup) icing sugar, sifted
2 teaspoon of rum
2 teaspoons of red wine
20 g (.7 ounces) of bittersweet chocolate (preferably 70%; high quality)
A selection of nuts and candied fruit
Use the egg whisk attachment of an electric beater to beat sugar, eggs and vanilla sugar so that the foamed mass has doubled and the sugar is dissolved.
Then add the nuts, candied and fresh orange and lemon peel, ginger and spices. Cover the batter and leave it in a cool place for 24 hours.
The next day form small, approx. 15 g (1 rounded tablespoon), balls from the mix with wet hands and place each on a wafer so that a 3 to 5 mm broad margin remains. Place the wafers on a baking paper lined baking tray and bake until light brown for 10 to 12 minutes at 200C (400F) in a preheated oven.
The Lebkuchen should be well risen but not quite finished inside because they have to further develop and remain soft inside. The finished Lebkuchen should be slid onto a drying rack to cool. Place one-third of the cookies to the side: they should remain natural, e.g. without icing.
Mix the sifted icing sugar and to a smooth consistency with rum and red wine. Then dip the upper surface of a further third of the Lebkuchen (not the wafer side) into this icing.
Melt and temper the chocolate, and then dip the upper surface of the remaining Lebkuchen. Leave the iced Lebkuchen on a drying rack to dry.
Decorate the lebkuchen with nuts and candied fruit while the icing or natural cookie is still soft.
Store the completed Lebkuchen in an airtight tin. Cover the cakes with greaseproof paper and lay a few apple peelings on top. This keeps them soft and moist. Try to let the cookies mature for about ten days before serving them.