What is Lebkuchen?

Tiffany Manley

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.

Cardamom is commonly used to season lebkuchen.
Cardamom is commonly used to season lebkuchen.

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.

Walnuts are a common ingredient in lebkuchen.
Walnuts are a common ingredient in lebkuchen.

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.

European-style bakeries might offer lebkuchen.
European-style bakeries might offer lebkuchen.

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Discussion Comments


@behaviourism- I have a friend who makes cookies from lebkuchen every year with all sorts of fruits and things to decorate them. They're really good, and I've been meaning to get her to show me how.

The funny thing is my heritage is mostly German, but no one in my family has been able to bake lebkuchen for a few generations. Maybe we just aren't good bakers, but somehow we never had a recipe passed down.


I really enjoy lebkuchen. It is a little different from the gingerbread types of cookies that Americans are more used to, even though they are based on this German cookie. You can find a lot of easy recipes for lebkuchen online, and I think you'll find during Christmas especially that it's worth learning to make.

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