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Exploring Womanhood > Heart of the Home > Cooking > Holiday Fare

Lebkuchen - A Holiday Tradition
by Mary Emma Allen

For centuries, honey cakes and lebkuchen have been symbolic of the Christmas season in Europe. The scent of spices fills the house when goodies are baking.

Particularly in Germany, honey cake, or lebkuchen, the forerunner of gingerbread, was favored during the holidays. These sweets have antecedents from pagan times when honey as a sweetener was believed to be a sacred food.

The German tribes baked honey cakes to celebrate the winter solstice. These supposedly gave energy for the winter to those who ate them.

Later when Christianity spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, some of the ancient customs became part of the religious Christmas traditions. Soon the monks in medieval monasteries began adding exotic Far Eastern spices to the honey cakes and perhaps came up with the first gingerbread.

Lebkuchen Became an Art

As towns grew throughout Europe, bakers' guilds evolved, and turning out prize lebkuchen became an art. In the city of Nuremburg, some of the best lebkuchen was produced for centuries.

Elaborate molds were made for shaping the ginger flavored cakes. These molds were made from tin, terra cotta, or carved from fruitwood. A great many intricate figures (religious subjects, animals, people, birds, soldiers) resulted as honey cake was made at Christmas.

Gradually the figures became simpler and details were added with frosting instead of elaborate molds. Eventually cookie cutters replaced the molds as these cakes were made in the home instead of predominately by bakers.

LEBKUCHEN VARIATION:

Combine 1 cup raisins and 1 cup water; bring to boiling; remove from hear. Stir in 1/3 cup salad oil or shortening. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar and 1 slightly Beaten egg. Sift together 1 3/4 cup sifted flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice. Beat into raisin mixture. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans.

Pour into greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 20 minutes, or until done. (For a thinner cookie, bake on greased 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan for 12 minutes.)

When cool, dust with confectioners sugar and cut into bars.

(You also may add candied 1/2 cup candied fruit to the recipe, if desired.)

(c)2001 Mary Emma Allen. Mary Emma Allen has been writing cooking columns for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. Some of her recipes and story excerpts have been included in a recently released free e-cookbook,"Cooking By the Book," available at: http://www.katywalls.com.

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