Chritsmas traditions can make all the difference when it comes to feeling festive. As I already mentioned in my Pepparkakor post, eating the right food at Christmas is really important to my family, as I’m sure it is to yours. The turkey is less important than the roast parsnips (particularly now I’m vegetarian!) and it’s important to have a Pringles sandwich on cheap white bread on Boxing Day.
For years now Lebkuchen have been one of those Christmas foods that are essential to feeling festive. I love the chocolate covered heart variety filled with apricot jam, and the thick discs half coated in glaze and chocolate. The texture is chewy and dense in a really pleasing way which sets them apart from English ginger biscuits.
Most varieties are made with ground almonds to give them that distinct texture, and some use ground apricot kernels. Nuts are out for me and apricot kernels are not the easiest ingredient to find in England and also contain high levels of Cyanide (eek!) so I decided to work out a version with sunflower seeds instead.
Usually I bake with ground roasted sunflower seeds, but I was curious to see whether using unroasted seeds would give a different flavour so I made two batches to find out. The Lebkuchen made with unroasted sunflower seeds had a slightly lighter texure and a more even domed top, and the Lebkuchen made with roasted seeds was a far greasier dough with more cracked tops but a better depth of flavour. The roasted ones also matured better, getting much tastier over the next few days. Roast seeds won the day in the end, but I’ll be conducting more experiments in the future with them.
Spicing is key with any gingerbread, and for Lebkuchen you need a special spice called Lebkuchen Gewürz. I used a recipe from The Darling Gourmet but left out mace as I didn’t have any and the spice cupboard is already full to bursting. I’d recommend making up a big batch and adding a sprinkle to your porridge in the morning with some chopped apple and maybe even a spoon of mincemeat. The taste is rich and warming with cloves and coriander.
The final biscuits are dense, rich and warming with a lovely spicy hit. The flavour develops even further over a few days, so if you can bear to, leave them in the tin before eating them. The mixture also doubles really easily so make up a double batch and have Nut-free Lebkuchen every day in the lead up to Christmas! They’d also make a really lovely gift alongside a little bottle of homemade booze or bag of coffee.
Recipe: Nut-free Lebkuchen
Lebkuchen spice ingredients (from The Everyday Gourmet)
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon star anise
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Nut-free Lebkuchen ingredients (adapted from BBC Good Food)
100g ground roast sunflower seeds (Roast in an oven or pan, then cool before using a spice or coffee grinder to make into a fine powder)
235g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
5tsp Lebkuchen spice
200ml runny honey
zest of 1 lemon (orange is also lovely)
1 egg white
100-120g icing sugar
- First make your Lebkuchen spice. Grind the whole spices then combine all the spice mix ingredients together, mixing well.
- Now make your dough. Heat the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat until melted and combined.
- Meanwhile add the flour sunflower seed meal, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spice mix to a bowl and use a whisk to combine.
- Pour the honey mix into the dry ingredients with the lemon zest and mix well to combine.
- Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to stand until cooled. It will firm up a bit as it cools.
- Heat your oven to 170C. Take a small piece of dough about the size of a walnut, roll it in your hands to form a ball, place on a lined tray and flatten with your palm. The dough is quite greasy so you shouldn’t need to flour your hands.
- Bake one try at a time for about 15 mins until the tops have started to harden up then cool on a rack.
- Once cool, make the glaze. Whisk up the egg white then sift in the icing sugar. Dip the Lebkuchen into the glaze top first and leave to set on baking paper. You could also dip them in melted chocolate if that takes your fancy, or even both!
- These biscuits taste even better after a few days in a tin.