Elisenlebkuchen are a traditional German gingerbread cookie made without flour. They have a unique and fantastic flavour from the special blend of spices. Nuts, fruit, and honey keep them wonderfully moist and chewy. (Skip to recipe.)
I am so lucky to be fulfilling a bucket list wish and visiting the wondrous Christmas markets in Germany this year. Even though our trip has had to be postponed for a week and we will only get a last-minute peek at them, I am going with a grateful heart; three of our children are in Bavaria waiting for us. I will be hugging loved ones especially closely this year, as I feel deeply what a precious gift family is. Every memory we make together is one to be cherished.
I baked these Lebkuchen (a type of German gingerbread cookie) a few weeks ago, as my daughter remarked how sad it would be to be in the Christmas markets and not be able to eat all the wonderful German baking (since it’s mostly made with gluten). I immediately thought of the famous Lebkuchen from Nuremberg (spelled Nürnberg in German) that is made with little or no flour; just loaded with finely chopped nuts, candied citron and orange peel, honey, eggs, and spices. It would be perfect if I could make some and bring it along. I also made a few batches of other German goodies, Leckerli and Pfeffernüsse, and my gumdrop fruitcake in a gluten free version, so those will come in my suitcase as well.
There are many variations of German Lebkuchen, varying from region to region and made since the 13th century. Some are light and crispy, some denser and chewy, some almost cakelike, but Elisenlebkuchen is one of Germany’s most famous Christmas treats. It dates from 1808 and is named after the daughter of a local Nürnberg baker. What distinguishes Elisenlebkuchen from all other types of lebkuchen is its low flour content. By law, it must contain less than 10% flour, and many bakers pride themselves on making this Lebkuchen with no flour at all. It is made with ground almonds and hazelnuts and is flavoured with that wonderfully distinct combination of German gingerbread spices known as Lebkuchengewürz – a different flavour profile than North American gingerbread spices. It can be purchased in import shops, but you can easily make your own (I’ve included my recipe below).
Elisenlebkuchen are soft and chewy, nutty and fruity, rich with that unique spice flavour. They can be glazed with icing sugar or chocolate, or even left plain. Their unique texture makes them an unforgettable Christmas treat. Elisenlebkuchen dough is much more fluid than other Lebkuchen types; I found it quick and easy to make in the food processor (though that is not the traditional way). Because of the soft sticky nature of the dough, these cookies are traditionally baked on Back Oblaten – thin flavourless crispy wheat wafers to hold the cookies together (monks first used communion wafers to bake these cookies on). I’ll show you how I make them without Oblaten.
Elisenlebkuchen is now a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ product, and only Elisenlebkuchen made within the city of Nūrnberg can be called that. Luckily we can make our own most delicious version at home to bring us a little taste of Christmas in Bavaria.
How to Make Elisenlebkuchen
If you’ve got a food processor, these gingerbread cookies are a whiz to make.
Just blend up the nuts, then the candied peel, then put it all together and add the rest of the ingredients. In minutes you’ve got a sticky dough all mixed and ready to shape into your cookies.
The traditional way to make Elisenlebkuchen is to form them on top of Back Oblaten. Oblaten are hard to find here in Canada, and they’re not gluten free. I’ve found the Lebkuchen cookies bake up just as well on parchment paper. I leave them out overnight after they’re baked and that helps them dry a bit more so they keep their shape.
Roll, then flatten and shape the cookies with wet fingers to get a good form with a smooth surface.
Bake the cookies, then leave them out overnight to dry a bit. Coat the cookies with icing sugar glaze . . .
or with chocolate. Both are traditional and delicious.
Store the glazed cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 months – if they last that long!
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Kitchen Frau Notes: The instructions look lengthy as I’ve included them for both mixing the dough in a food processor or by hand, but the process is really fairly short and simple for either method (a breeze in the food processor).
You can use blanched almonds, split in half, to decorate the tops, or pick out whole slices from slivered almonds (that’s what I did).
If making chocolate glaze: If you get your chocolate too hot while melting it, you run the risk of getting a fat ‘bloom’ on it as it hardens on the cookies – a whitish layer on the surface of the chocolate that is harmless; merely cacao butter molecules coming to the surface. This can take up to two days to develop, and it doesn’t affect the taste – itjust looks less than pretty. The easiest way to avoid chocolate ‘bloom’ is to melt the chocolate in a microwave in a silicone or plastic bowl (glass gets too hot). Heat it in 20 second increments, stirring after each one, then stopping when about 3/4 of the chocolate is melted. Remove the chocolate from the microwave and stir to melt the rest.
*Note – if your cookies do get the whitish bloom on them after a few days, I’ve discovered that you can gently blow on them with a blow dryer set on the highest heat setting and lowest fan speed setting, to re-melt the chocolate glaze right on the cookies. Let them re-harden and they are usually okay after that. The glaze may be a little less smooth in appearance, but the chocolate stays brown. The reheating seems to temper the chocolate enough to stay stable.
(Gingerbread Cookies from Nuremberg, Germany)
gluten free, dairy free
- 2 cups (200gms) almond meal (finely ground whole almonds, not blanched almond flour) or 200 grams (1¼ cups) whole almonds with the skins on
- 2 cups (200gms) ground hazelnuts/filberts or 200 grams (1½ cups) whole hazelnuts
- 1½ cups (300gms) diced mixed candied peel (citron and orange), lightly packed
- 1½ tablespoons (4½ teaspoons) Lebkuchen Gewürz (mixed German gingerbread spices), see recipe below for a good homemade version
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (100gms) brown sugar, firmly packed (or 100 gms/⅔ cup coconut sugar)
- ¼ cup (85gms) honey
- 4 large eggs
for the icing glaze:
- 1 cup (130gms) icing sugar/powdered sugar/confectioners sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon rosewater or another tablespoon plain water (total 3 Tbsp. liquid)
- sliced or slivered almonds – optional
or for the chocolate glaze (our favourite):
- ¾ cup (130gms) dark chocolate chips (dairy-free) or good chocolate, chopped
- 1½ tablespoons coconut oil
- sliced or slivered almonds – optional
You can mix this complete Elisenlebkuchen dough in a food processor if you have a large capacity one. Alternately, if using pre-ground nuts, you can mix the dough by hand or in a stand mixer.
In a food processor: If you are using whole almonds or hazelnuts, grind them first in a large capacity food processor until they are finely ground, pulsing them as they get finer until they are the texture of fine bread crumbs (but don’t grind so long they start getting oily and turning to nut butter). Remove the ground nuts to a bowl.
Put the candied citrus peel into the food processor and grind it until finely chopped. Add about one cup of the ground nuts or nuts and process for a few seconds until combined and the mass is finely minced. Adding the nuts helps the candied peel to get chopped more finely without sticking together.
Add the rest of the ground nuts or nut meal to the food processor, along with the Lebkuchen spice, the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse to combine.
Add the honey and eggs and process or until the mixture is a thick mass moving freely in the food processor, but don’t puree it until smooth – you still want a to see the textured bits of nuts and candied peel in the dough. The mixture will be a thick, sticky dough.
In a stand mixer or by hand: Use pre-ground almond meal and hazelnut meal. Chop the candied peel very finely by hand. Keep running the knife over the mass on the cutting board until it is very finely minced.
Beat the eggs. sugar, and honey in a large mixing bowl by hand or in a stand mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined and you have a very thick, sticky dough.
To form the Elisenlebkuchen cookies: Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Prepare two cookie sheets by cutting a piece of parchment paper to fit. Find a round object with a circumference of 2½ inches/ 63mm (for small cookies) or 2¾-3 inches/70-75mm (for larger cookies) and trace twelve circles onto the parchment with a pencil or black marker. Flip the paper over so the circles are on the bottom and place the parchment back onto the cookie sheet.
Scoop out spoonfuls of dough or use a cookie scoop (*see sizes below). With dampened hands, roll the dough into balls and place one on each circle, visible through the parchment paper. You will need to re-rinse your hands after every 3 to 4 cookies so the dough doesn’t stick as you roll them.
To flatten the cookies: have a small bowl of water nearby and dip your fingers in, then shake off the excess water. With damp fingers, press down the cookie dough ball so it neatly fills the circle. Shape the cookie so it’s about ½ inch (1 cm) thick in the middle and tapers down at the edges, patting the surface smooth with your fingers. Re-wet your fingers for each cookie.
*Small cookies: ~1½ tablespoons dough, make 1½ inch diameter balls flattened to 2½ inch disks.
*Large cookies: ~2½ tablespoons dough, make 1¾ inch diameter balls flattened to 2¾ inch disks.
Bake the cookies until the edges just start to get light brown: 18 to 20 minutes for the smaller cookies, 22 to 25 minutes for the larger cookies. Let cool five minutes in the pans, then transfer them with a spatula to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Leave the cookies to sit out at room temperature on the cooling racks or on towels in a single layer on the counters for 24 hours to fully dry the outsides before glazing them. Don’ t worry, the insides will still be soft and chewy – the candied peel and honey will help with that.
You can glaze the cookies with icing, chocolate, or leave them plain.
To glaze the cookies: Set a cooling rack over a cookie sheet or piece of parchment paper to catch the drips.
If using icing to glaze your cookies, mix it up by whisking together the icing sugar and water/rosewater until no lumps remain. Dip the top of each cookie into the glaze or brush it on with a pastry brush, allowing the excess to drip off on the rack. You may have to do a second layer of the icing sugar glaze to make it thick enough.
If using chocolate to glaze your cookies, melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a silicone or plastic bowl (glass gets too hot) in a microwave. Heat it in 20 second increments, stirring after each one, then stopping when about 3/4 of the chocolate is melted. Remove the chocolate from the microwave and stir to melt the rest. Dip the tops of the cookies into the melted chocolate, then use a pastry brush to spread it around and brush off any excess chocolate glaze so only a thin layer coats the top of each cookie. Rewarm the chocolate for 10 seconds if it gets too thick.
If desired, decorate each cookie with 3 almond slices or a whole almond on top while the glaze is still wet. Allow the glaze to harden for several hours until completely set, then store the cookies between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to two months.
If the chocolate glaze gets too hot during melting, it can get a harmless ‘bloom’ on it (whitish colouration). See the Notes above for how to get rid of that.
Makes 36 small cookies or 24-26 large cookies.
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Note: You can buy any of the following spices whole, and grind them yourself in a coffee grinder before measuring them, if you don’t already have them in your spice cupboard pre-ground.
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground anise seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground star anise or fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Stir all spices together. Store in a tightly sealed small glass jar. Will keep for 6 months.
Makes 30 grams/4 tablespoons Lebkuchen Gewürz. (Try it in these Lebkuchen loaves.)
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