Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen

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Lebkuchen is a traditional German
German-speaking Europe
The German language is spoken in a number of countries and territories in West, Central and Eastern Europe...

 baked Christmas
Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

 treat, somewhat resembling gingerbread
Gingerbread
Gingerbread is a term used to describe a variety of sweet food products, which can range from a soft, moist loaf cake to something close to a ginger biscuit. What they have in common are the predominant flavors of ginger and a tendency to use honey or molasses rather than just sugar...

.

Lebkuchen were invented by Medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 monks in Franconia
Franconia
Franconia is a region of Germany comprising the northern parts of the modern state of Bavaria, a small part of southern Thuringia, and a region in northeastern Baden-Württemberg called Tauberfranken...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 in the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm
Ulm
Ulm is a city in the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg, situated on the River Danube. The city, whose population is estimated at 120,000 , forms an urban district of its own and is the administrative seat of the Alb-Donau district. Ulm, founded around 850, is rich in history and...

, and 1395 in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The latter being the most famous exporter today, of the product that is known as Nürnberger Lebkuchen (Nürnberg Lebkuchen).

Local history in Nuremberg relates that emperor Friedrich III
Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick the Peaceful KG was Duke of Austria as Frederick V from 1424, the successor of Albert II as German King as Frederick IV from 1440, and Holy Roman Emperor as Frederick III from 1452...

 held a Reichstag
Reichstag (Holy Roman Empire)
The Imperial Diet was the Diet, or general assembly, of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire.During the period of the Empire, which lasted formally until 1806, the Diet was not a parliament in today's sense; instead, it was an assembly of the various estates of the realm...

 there in 1487 and he invited the children of the city to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen bearing his printed portrait to almost four thousand children.

Historically, and due to differences in the ingredients, Lebkuchen is also known as honey cake (:de:Honigkuchen) or pepper cake (:de:Pfefferkuchen). Traditionally, the cookies are usually quite large and may be four and a half inches in diameter if round, and larger if rectangular.

Sometimes Lebkuchen is packaged in richly decorated tins, chests, and boxes which have become nostalgic collector items. Lebkuchen range in taste from spicy to sweet and come in a variety of shapes with round being the most common. The ingredients usually include honey
Honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

, spices such as aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice, nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit. The proportion or content of the type of nuts often determines the value. Salt of Hartshorn
Ammonium carbonate
Ammonium carbonate is a commercial salt with the chemical formula 2CO3. It is used when crushed as a smelling salt. It can be crushed when needed in order to revive someone who has fainted...

 and Potash
Potassium carbonate
Potassium carbonate is a white salt, soluble in water , which forms a strongly alkaline solution. It can be made as the product of potassium hydroxide's absorbent reaction with carbon dioxide. It is deliquescent, often appearing a damp or wet solid...

 are often used for raising the dough. Lebkuchen dough is usually placed on a thin wafer base called Oblate. This was an idea of the monks, who used unleavened communion wafer ingredients to prevent the dough from sticking. Typically, they are glazed or covered with very dark chocolate, but some are left uncoated.

The forerunner of today's Lebkuchen was called the "honey cake" and its history can be traced back to the Egyptians
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, the Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, and the Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

. They believed that honey, the only sweetener widely available to them, was a gift of the deities and had magical
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 and healing powers. Honey cakes were also worn as a talisman in battle or as protection against evil spirits.
Since 1808, a variety of Nürnberg Lebkuchen of high quality (no flour) has been called Elisenlebkuchen. It is uncertain whether the name Elise refers to the daughter of a gingerbread baker or the wife of a margrave
Margrave
A margrave or margravine was a medieval hereditary nobleman with military responsibilities in a border province of a kingdom. Border provinces usually had more exposure to military incursions from the outside, compared to interior provinces, and thus a margrave usually had larger and more active...

. Her name is associated with the finest of the Lebkuchen produced by members of the guild. Since 1996, :de:Nürnberger Lebkuchen is a Protected Designation of Origin
Protected designation of origin
Protected Geographical Status is a legal framework defined in European Union law to protect the names of regional foods. Protected Designation of Origin , Protected Geographical Indication and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed are distinct regimes of geographical indications within the framework...

 and must be produced within the boundaries of the city.

Lebkuchen is usually soft, but a harder type of Lebkuchen is used to produce Lebkuchen Hearts, usually inscribed with icing
Icing (food)
Icing, also called frosting in the United States, is a sweet often creamy glaze made of sugar with a liquid such as water or milk, that is often enriched with ingredients such as butter, egg whites, cream cheese, or flavorings and is used to cover or decorate baked goods, such as cakes or cookies...

, which are available at many German fairs, and the witch houses made popular because of the fairy tales about Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel
"Hansel and Gretel" is a well-known fairy tale of German origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister threatened by a cannibalistic hag living deep in the forest in a house constructed of cake and confectionery. The two children...

. The closest German equivalent of the gingerbread man
Gingerbread man
A gingerbread man is a biscuit or cookie made of gingerbread, usually in the shape of a stylized human, commonly male as the name suggests, although making other shapes, especially seasonal themes and characters, is quite common as well.-History:...

 is the Honigkuchenpferd (honey cake horse).

The etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 of the term Lebkuchen is uncertain. Derivations from the Latin libum (flat bread) and from the Germanic word Laib (loaf) have been proposed. Another likely possibility is that it comes from the old term Leb-Honig, the rather solid crystallized honey taken from the hive, that can not be used for much beside baking. Folk etymology often associates the name with Leben (life), Leib (body), or Liebspeise (favorite food).

See also


  • Aachener Printen
    Aachener Printen
    Aachener Printen are a type of Lebkuchen originating from the city of Aachen in Germany. The term is a protected designation of origin and so all manufacturers can be found in or near Aachen.-History:...

  • Basler Läckerli
    Basler Läckerli
    The Basler Läckerli is a traditional hard spice biscuit originating from Basel, Switzerland. It is made of honey, hazelnuts, candied peel, and Kirsch....

  • Berner Haselnusslebkuchen
    Berner Haselnusslebkuchen
    Berner Haselnusslebkuchen are Lebkuchen – traditional Christmas cakes – from Berne, Switzerland. Made from ground hazelnuts, they are not to be confused with the Berner Honiglebkuchen, another Bernese specialty.-Composition and production:...