Lebkuchen is a German biscuit that resembles a soft gingerbread. It traditionally is a Christmastime treat, with Franconian monks being attributed with the invention of the German version of this sweet and spicy delicacy. Many styles exist, but one of the most famous is the type that is produced in Nuremberg, Germany, has a wafer underneath and is coated in dark chocolate. The biscuits also are used to make decorated heart cookies and witch houses, both of which can be found at German markets.
For many years, Nuremberg has been home to a guild of bakers who produce all of the traditional “Nuremberg lebkuchen." They are produced in factories and in small bakeries and are a protected geographical indication. Having this designation means that it is the only type that can be labeled as “Nuremberg lebkuchen." In addition, these can be produced only by guild members within the city limits of Nuremberg.
Other types of lebkuchen exist as well. Brown lebkuchen does not have a wafer underneath and is not coated by any chocolate or other substance. Some recipes contain nuts and raisins. Others are filled with jams and jellies. Many modifications have been made to the recipe by various bakers over the years, but the recipe used by the German guild is kept a strict secret.
The main ingredients of lebkuchen are spices, flour, eggs and some type of sweetener. Back when baking of the product first started, sugar was much more expensive and much harder to find. As a result, honey was used as a substitute sweetener. Various types of nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts might be used. Some of the spices used are cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom.
Many German markets contain various items made with lebkuchen. Witch houses, which are modeled after the story of Hansel and Gretel, are made with it. Also, a harder version of the biscuit is baked, usually in the shape of a heart, and is decorated with icing, then given as a gift. Horses also are shaped with the dough and decorated with icing, much like a gingerbread man.
It is possible to order lebkuchen over the Internet and in some bakeries throughout the world. It is more easily found during Christmastime, because it is a traditional German Christmas treat. Many people even make their own, using recipes they have found on the Internet or ones that have been passed down through their family.