For some days now, since my Christmas pudding ran out, I have turned to a 14th century German tradition to accompany my regular caffeine fix. Found in my goodies closet, thanks to a gift-showering aunt (much loved, regardless!) from Nuremburg, Lebkuchen make for the perfect any-time snack. Somewhat similar to gingerbread, they have a sweet, lightly nutty taste, and their aroma is spicy, a bit like nutmeg and allspice. This treat has a soft, light texture, with a slight crunch from chopped nuts and has received world-wide acclaim as the Nurnberger Lebkuchen.
The history of the Lebkuchen begins with the Honigkuchen (Honey Cake). Ancient Egyptians baked these cakes to place in the graves of kings as they believed honey was a gift for the gods.
The Romans called their honey cakes “panus mellitus” (sweet bread), using honey to sweeten as well as glaze them. Its present day avatar took shape in Belgium before being discovered by the local monks in Nuremburg. Since the ingredients were not available locally, this tradition flourished in cities that had a significant trade temper. The Lorenzer Forest was an added advantage as the lush bloom-laden countryside provided an excellent environment for bees to go about their business.
The Lebkuchen is baked on a thin wafer called Oblaten to prevent the dough from sticking; its highest quality version, the Elisen Lebkuchen, is laden with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with no more than 10% flour.
Historically round or rectangular, a number of shapes, especially hearts, are found crowding busy stalls in Nuremburg’s equally famed Christmas Markets.