If the abbots in Franconian monasteries had been stricter, the finest of German gingerbreads would not have been invented. Nuns and monks had started to use Eucharist wafers to produce gingerbread according to their own secret recipes. But the word and the formula spread quickly, and soon a whole new industry of specialized gingerbread bakers (Lebküchner) developed in and around the city of Nuremberg, which became the world gingerbread capital and remains so today. It was no coincidence that Nuremberg played this important role. The city was at the center of many important medieval trade routes, including an old spice route, so the necessary ingredients were available.
Only gingerbread made in Nuremberg can legitimately be labeled Nürnberger Lebkuchen. The finest of those gingerbreads are the flourless Elisenlebkuchen, the masterpiece of the trade since the early nineteenth century.
In Germany, pre-cut edible paper, also called rice paper, is readily available, especially around Christmas. In the United States, you can find sheets of it in baking supply stores.
Elisenlebkuchen come glazed with sugar or chocolate, or plain. This recipe glazes one half of the rounds with sugar glaze and the other half with chocolate glaze. If you want only one kind of glaze, double the desired glaze ingredients.
- 4 eggs
- 1-1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
- pinch ground mace
- pinch ground cloves
- pinch ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- pinch Salt
- Zest of 1 lemon preferably organic
- 1-1/4 cups shelled unpeeled almonds
- 1-1/4 cups chopped hazelnuts
- 1/3 cup candied orange peel 2-1/2 ounces
- 1-1/4 cups diced citron 6 ounces
- 24 edible paper disks 3 to 3-1/2 inches diameter
- 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons hot water
- 4 squares semisweet chocolate 1-ounce each
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Beat the eggs with the sugar until foamy. Add the mace, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grind the almonds and the hazelnuts very finely in a food processor and combine with the eggs. Chop the orange peel and citron very finely and add them to the mixture.
Place the edible paper disks on a baking sheet and spread with the mixture about 1/2 inch thick, leaving about 1/4 inch all around. Bake for 20 minutes. The rounds should still be moist and soft. You can check this by gently pressing on the bottom (paper) side. Place the rounds on a cake rack and glaze while warm.
For the sugar glaze, mix the confectioners' sugar with hot water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add just as much water as needed for a thick but spreadable consistency. Coat the rounds with the glaze and let it dry completely.
For the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler or in a metal bowl set over a pot with boiling water. Stir constantly until smooth. Cool slightly, then spread the glaze evenly over the rounds and let it dry completely.
Store in an airtight container, preferably metal. They keep for up to a month.
Recipe reprinted from "Spoonfuls of Germany" with permission from Hippocrene Books