I’m so happy to introduce you to wonderful Michelle, a lovely friend I’ve meet via Instagram. She’s a crazy talent baker, enthusiastic blogger and German food lover. She’s the perfect fit for Ginger by Choice and so I was absolutely thrilled when she agreed to write a guest post for us. Enjoy the beautiful pictures, the video (this lovely girl made a video!!!) the wonderful article about the Christmas traditions of Michellle’s multicultural family and her amazing Lebkuchen Recipe:
A few weeks ago, my wonderful Instagram friend Eva reached out to me and asked me if I would be interested in writing a Christmas guest post for her lovely blog. Suffice to say I pounced on the idea. As a self professed Germanophile and Christmas junkie it was the perfect fit for me, as I firmly believe that there are 11 months to a year and then there’s the Holidays. In fact, I’m so smitten by the Holidays that my mom and I built a business (a rather successful bakery for that matter) out of it, in my wonderful hometown of Bogota, Colombia.
I had an amazing childhood, growing up in what most people would consider a cultural hodgepodge home. My mother is a Spaniard, who happened to go to the German school and has ingrained all sort of German traditions, my father, a practicing Sephardic Jew of Turkish and Belgian origin. Add to the mix my favorite uncle who is Hungarian-Swedish and happened to be determined to bring his Yuletide traditions, and you end with a fantastic array of foods, celebrations and general good cheer that carried on for a bit over a month. Truth be told, I don’t really know how we managed to make everything work so seamlessly, but we did.
Let me illustrate what our Holidays look like. Hanukkah usually comes first, eight days of presents, family, food and the delight of lighting candles, which I’m a sucker for. Next, or sometimes during depending on the Jewish calendar, comes “El día de las velitas” which translates to the Day of Candles, a Colombian Holiday where everyone hits the streets to light candles with their neighbors. Then it’s time for “the Novena” another Colombian tradition where we get together to celebrate, pray, eat, drink, sing, pull pranks on each other, and be generally merry during the 9 days prior to Christmas. That means that by now we have celebrated for at least 17 days when it’s time for Christmas, and boy do we go all out! The buffet and amount of presents under, around, close to and sometimes even far away from the tree are obscene and all I can say about the decorations is that I think my mom tries to compete with Macy’s every year.
By the time New Year’s Eve shows up we are several pounds heavier, but all the happier. Luckily Colombian traditions include packing a bag, and lapping around the neighborhood with it at 12 PM to ensure you travel plenty next year. I tend to think the tradition actually sprung from the necessity to aid with digestion. Last but certainly not least is “Reyes” or Epiphany. Celebrated January 6th, it’s the day when Spanish kids get their presents from the Three Wise Men.
LEBKUCHEN – A HISTORICAL TREAT
All of this to illustrate the amount of amazing food we have, but out of all delicious treats, there is one I particularly love: LEBKUCHEN (German for gingerbread). Not only are they seriously delicious, but their history is quite fascinating: when German crusaders came back from the Orient, they brought home a bounty of spices, including but not limited to ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Spices became all the rage in the Middle Ages. Not only were they highly appreciated for their flavor but for their healing and food preserving properties as well. During medieval times people actually regarded food as medicine and as way to keep themselves healthy. Spices played a key role. (If you would like to read more on medieval food and etiquette check out the post about my Saffron Honey Pear Pie).
Fast forward a couple of centuries, to a period when sugar became more widely available, spices made their way into dessert and sweet realm in the form of Lebkuchen. However, these sweets were considered to be such an elegant delicacy that there were laws prohibiting them from being made by anybody that was not a certified member of the newly created Lebkuchen guild. The recipe was so zealously guarded that only the city of Nuremberg had an official guild. As time passed and spice prices went down, people started trying to copy the aromatic cookie in their homes. Variations started popping up all over Europe, like Pepparkakor or Gingersnaps in Sweden, Gingerbread in Switzerland where cookies began being cut into boy and girl shapes in honor of Hansel and Gretel, or Pain d’Epices in France amongst others.
Yet the discovery of the New World introduced a key ingredient that revolutionized Lebkuchen forever: chocolate. This is definitely the moment when Lebkuchen production exploded. In fact, Lebkuchen were so highly appreciated that they were a suitable wedding gift and people could pay their taxes with them. Yes, they are that delicious. And while I don’t think the IRS takes Lebkuchen as payment these days or that your best friend asked for some in her wedding registry, I am pretty sure you and your family will love this recipe.
The recipe I’m sharing with you happens to be the one we made in both our bakery and home. It’s a tried and true adaptation of an official Lebkuchen recipe from the 17th century.
I really have to thank Michelle for your lovely pictures, the video, this fun text and for sharing not only her families’ traditions but also this amazing Lebkuchen Recipe with us. Give it a try, those cookies are super tasty and just beautiful! I had tons of fun making them. THANK YOU SO MUCH, Michelle, it was a pleasure to work with you on this and I’m really looking forward to creating more with you in 2019. Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Holidays, feliz el día de las velitas, cheerful Novena, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Joyful Three Kings Day and a lot of delicious Lebkuchen for all of you!!!
MICHELLE’S LEBKUCHEN RECIPE
30 – 40 cookies
1 stick of butter
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
8 tbsp honey
4 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp ground anise
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of cardamom
1 pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 peel of lemon zest
3 tbsp of milk
2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
2 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Soften the butter and add the sugar, vanilla, egg, yolk, and honey. Mix the flour with the baking powder, cocoa powder and the spices. Sift and add with ginger and lemon zest to the previous mixture little by little alternating it with the tablespoons of milk. Add the rest of the flour until there is a smooth dough. Do not over knead. If it was a bit sticky put it in the fridge for a while.
Stretch the dough with a rolling pin until it is 0.2” thick and cut the biscuits. Bake for 10 minutes.
For the glaze: beat egg white with sifted powdered sugar and the lemon juice so that it is a thick but liquid mass with an electric mixer until it has a heavy cream consistency, add a few more drops of lemon juice or powdered sugar if needed. Start to decorate cookies when they’re completely cooled off. You could also dip them in melted dark chocolate.
Here is a print friendly version of Michelle’s Lebkuchen recipe. Enjoy this amazing Christmas treat!