Learn Everything You Need to Know About the German Gingerbread Specialty
What Is Lebkuchen and How Does It Taste?
German gingerbread is a sweet cookie, strongly flavored with a long shelf life. The sweetness traditionally comes from honey and the extended shelf life. Gingerbread recipes often omit milk, fat and water, resulting in a consistency rich in sugar. Characteristically, a gingerbread is spiced with cinnamon, fennel, anise, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, allspice or cloves.
What is the English word for Lebkuchen?
The English word for Lebkuchen is gingerbread. But German gingerbread comes in many variations.
Is Lebkuchen the Same As Gingerbread?
Lebkuchen is the German word for Gingerbread. The difference is that Lebkuchen have many variations of dough which often contain ground nuts and fruit, only the simple Lebkuchen cut out cookies are like what most know in the US as gingerbread. I listed the main varieties and the most famous variations of German gingerbread below.
Learn How to Pronounce Lebkuchen In German?
What is the Wafer on the Bottom of Lebkuchen?
The bottom wafer of Lebkuchen is called “Oblaten”. They are difficult to find in US supermarkets, but you can easily order them online.
Best 12 Lebkuchen Recipes That You Need to Try!
„Lebkuchenherzen“ gingerbread hearts
Gingerbread in its most beautiful form: A gingerbread heart looks great on a colorful plate, as a Christmas tree ornament or as a gift for loved ones.
„Elisen Lebkuchen“ gingerbread specialty from Nuremberg
Nothing tastes more like Christmas than Elisenlebkuchen. They are easy to make with this recipe, great to keep and so perfect for the holidays.
„Pfeffernuesse! spiced gingerbread cookies
This old secret family recipe, makes it easy to make authentic German peppernuts.
„Schokoladenlebkuchen“ chocolate gingerbread
A special recipe for the Christmas season are these soft and moist chocolate gingerbread cookies.
„Gefüllte Lebkuchen“ Jam filled gingerbread
Can you imagine something more delicious than a jam filled soft gingerbread cookie that is covered in dark chocolate?
“Magenbrot” digestive gingerbread cookies
This fragrant delicacy is quickly homemade with this recipe. The delicious Magenbrot aka stomach bread is not only in the Christmas season also a welcomed gift for friends and family.
“Lebkuchenplätzchen” gingerbread cut-out cookies
These aromatic gingerbread cookies are baked quite quickly and can be beautifully decorated with icing and decorations.
“Honigkuchen” honey cake
A quick, classic honey cake. This honey cake is soft, aromatic and fluffy. It is made very quickly and is ready to eat immediately after baking.
„Lebkuchen-Kuchen“ Gingerbread Cake
This gingerbread cake is very easy to make and can be prepared in just a few minutes. This cake is also perfect as a dessert outside of Christmas baking. The perfect combination of Christmas cookies and simple box cake: try our gingerbread cake and you will no longer celebrate Christmas without it.
„Lebkuchen vom Blech“ Gingerbread Sheet Cake
This yummy gingerbread sheet cake recipe is very easy to make and so delicious.
We have the super delicious original recipe for you! With candied orange peel, gingerbread spices and honey, the Christmas cookies will be as delicious as Oma's.
From now on you can easily make these sweet Dominosteine yourself. The perfect mix of gingerbread, jelly and marzipan is guaranteed to taste better than store-bought with this recipe!
Origin, History & Fun Facts
Every child knows gingerbread from the fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", and today we like it especially at Christmastime. But the sweet delicacy was already known thousands of years ago. The ancient Egyptians gave their kings honey cake to take to the grave, and the delicacy was also appreciated in ancient Greece where soldiers were given it to strengthen themselves.
Is Lebkuchen German?
Who would have thought that the Egyptians already loved the sweet taste of gingerbread? Written records convey the consumption of "honey cake" - and that already in the year 350 before Christ. The Romans also imitated it: cakes spread with honey were eaten here not only at Christmas time, but all year round.
But how did the honey cake become the famous gingerbread? In the 12th century, it originated in Belgium, from where it quickly made its way to Aachen and Franconian monasteries. They were offered in the monastery pharmacies as honey cakes with medicinal herbs. Quasi as sweet medicine!
Later, in 1395, the first so-called “Lebküchner” (bakers who baked gingerbread) began to produce the sweet gingerbread and joined together in 1643 to form the guild of "Nuremberg Lebzelter".
In the east of Germany, gingerbread is also called “Pfefferkuchen”. This comes from the fact that in the Middle Ages any spice was called "pepper". Due to the use of numerous spices - i.e., "pepper" - the name of the “Pfefferkuchen” was obvious. How to pronounce Lebkuchen?
In the 11th century, the so-called honey cakes and pepper cakes were then mentioned for the first time in a monastery manuscript. At that time, spices such as cloves, cinnamon, anise, coriander, ginger, and nutmeg were considered healthy, healing, digestive and appetizing. The small cakes were created in the monastery bakeries, which could even be enjoyed during Lent.
As early as the 15th century, children's hearts beat faster at the sight of the sweet treat: In 1487, Emperor Frederick III had the children of the city come to the moat and handed out about 4,000 gingerbread cookies with his picture on them. From then on, these Lebkuchen with the nickname "Kaiserlein" were baked in Nuremberg until the 18th/19th century.
From a Simple Cookie to a World-Renowned Delicacy
What were once simple gingerbread cakes developed into delicacies of increasingly finer quality. Nuts, almonds, honey, and spices found their way into the gingerbread dough, which was first baked in stone or clay molds, and from the 16th century on wafers.
What Types Of German Gingerbread Are There?
„Weiße Lebkuchen“ (white gingerbread) are made only in rectangular shape and is neither glazed, coated nor filled. For decoration (topping) are used almonds and/or candied lemon peel and/or candied orange peel.
„Braune Lebkuchen“ (brown gingerbread) are formed from dough, cut out or cut and not baked on a wafer base. Brown gingerbread includes, for example, peppernuts, breakfast cakes, Dominosteine (domino cookies), Basler Leckerli, gingerbread hearts and Printen. The Christmas treats are baked from a kneadable dough with a high percentage of flour - mainly light wheat - with a certain percentage of rye flour. For refinement, almonds, nuts or even pieces of rock candy are also added.
What is the Difference between Pfeffernusse and Lebkuchen?
Pfeffernusse (peppernuts) belong to the group of brown gingerbread, but in most cases, there is no pepper in the cookies. However, aromatic ingredients predominate these round cookies. The name of the dessert can probably be attributed to the many exotic spices in the dough, which were generally referred to as pepper in the Middle Ages. The outside of the peppernuts is usually covered with a white sugar coating. However, the treats are also available with a chocolate glaze or pastel colored icing.
In the 18th century, the city of Offenbach am Main became famous for its peppernuts. Until the 1980s, the state of Hesse even had the gingerbread specialty served as a Hessian treat at state receptions.
Why Pfeffernusse aka Peppernuts Don´t Contain Pepper
In the Middle Ages, spices were often simply grouped under the general term "pepper" - hence the name Pfefferkuchen. It was not until 1409 that the term "gingerbread" appeared in a Franconian manuscript.
Dominosteine doesn´t look like gingerbread at first sight. Domiosteine (domino cubes) are about the size of a bite made of one or more layers of brown gingerbread and one or more layers of preparations of fruit jelly and marzipan. They are usually coated with dark chocolate, but you can also find them covered in semi-sweet and white chocolate.
Another specialty are Spitzkuchen (triangular-shaped bite-sized cookies) which are filled or unfilled pieces of brown gingerbread, covered in chocolate.
Printen are crispy-hard or also juicy-soft brown gingerbread. They are mostly rectangular pieces. Plate-like or figure-like shapes are also common. Traditionally recipes use undissolved brown sugar candy crumbs and in some cases beet syrup.
Since 1820, the treat has been baked in Aachen and only Printen produced there or in neighboring towns may be called "Aachener Printen". In the early years, Printen had a characteristically flat, elongated shape into which were pressed into wooden molds. This process is what gave Printen their name.
Printen are not only enjoyed as a sweet treat but also as an ingredient for hearty dishes, for example as Printen sauce for venison leg or Rhenish Sauerbraten.
“Magenbrot” (stomach bread) is also a brown gingerbread. Mainly known in Southwest Germany and Switzerland. The usually diamond-shaped cookie is offered at fairground festivals and Christmas markets. Magenbrot owes its name to the many digestive spices it contains, for example, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg. The brown color, on the other hand, comes from cocoa. The gingerbread is sweetened with honey or sugar and topped with a delicious sugar glaze.
Tip: This stomach-friendly treat is especially recommended after a hearty, heavy meal.
“Honig-Lebkuchen” (honey gingerbread), also called “Honigkuchen” (honey cake), is also brown gingerbread. It does not look like a cookie but in a cake or bread loaf shape. It needs to be prepared with at least half of the sugar content coming from honey to able to be called a proper “Honigkuchen”.
In contrast to so-called brown gingerbread, such as Printen, Elisenlebkuchen are often baked without flour or very little flour and are therefore particularly soft and juicy.
Especially the exquisite Elisenlebkuchen gets its name only if it meets certain criteria: It may only contain a maximum of 10% flour but must have a particularly high proportion of almonds and nuts - at least 25%.
According to legend, Elisen gingerbread owes its name to the seriously ill daughter Elisabeth of a gingerbread maker. Doctors were not able to help the daughter, so the desperate father baked his daughter a gingerbread with a special recipe. He left out the flour and used only the best healing spices and ingredients. And lo and behold, Elisabeth became healthy again and the Elisen Lebkuchen started its journey to become a world-renowned cookie specialty!
Nürnberger Lebkuchen – Gingerbread Specialty from Nuremberg
Today, Nuremberg gingerbread is available in numerous varieties. They are baked with or without wafers and shaped, spread or cut. Some come with a chocolate layer, with sugar icing or without a sweet coating. The gingerbread is often decorated with almonds.
Since 1927 a Trademark
Since 1927, the term "Lebkuchen" has been protected under trademark law, and since 1996 this has also applied to the geographical origin: Only if the Lebkuchen is produced in the city of Nuremberg it may call itself "Nürnberger Lebkuchen".
Honey cake, Printen or Dominoes may also be sold under the designation Nuremberg Gingerbread.
German Gingerbread is popular all over the world
Some of the German gingerbread specialties are known worldwide, especially the Nürnberger Lebkuchen and the Aachener Printen.
Other regional varieties include Rosner Lebkuchen, Bentheimer Moppen, Pulsnitz Pfefferkuchen, Neisser Konfekt, Liegnitzer Bomben, Coburger Schmätzchen and many more.