Lebkuchen have been made in Nuremberg since medieval times. This recipe for Nürnberger Lebkuchen (Nuremberg Lebkuchen) is from 1553! Isn’t that awesome? 😀
Lebkuchen have a long tradition in Nuremberg. The first Lebküchner (Lebkuchen maker) was recorded in 1395 in Nuremberg. Medieval Lebkuchen were made with honey, sugar, flour and spices – no nuts, no eggs, no candied citrus peel. Nuremberg was one of the two largest trade centers on the route from Italy to Nothern Europe in medieval times. So there was no shortage of imported cane sugar and spices. Honey hunters gathered honey from wild bee colonies in the large forest that surrounds Nuremberg (old drawing of honey hunters). The Nuremberg forest was also called “The bee garden of the Holy Roman Empire”.
Niernberger Lezeltlach – Nuremberg Lebkuchen
Scroll down for the adapted recipe.
- 1 Maß honey
- 1 1/2 Pfund sugar
- 1 Vierling flour
- 1 Lot cinnamon
- 3 Lot nutmeg
- 1 1/2 Lot cloves
- 6 Lot ginger
- 1 Quintel mace
The recipe was published in The Cookbook Of Sabina Welserin: Recipe 163 – Niernberger Lezeltlach zu machen (in medieval German). Here‘s the English translation of the recipe: To make Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
Medieval Weights & Measures
The strange weights and measures puzzled me for some days: Maß, Pfund, Vierling, Lot, Quintel. In the 16th century, the Maß in Augsburg isn’t the same as the Maß in Munich. And the Nuremberg Pfund in 1550 is different than the Nuremberg Pfund in 1810.
Sabina Welser or Welserin lived in Augsburg or Nuremberg in 1553 when she published her cookbook. So I searched for weights in Augsburg and Nuremberg in the 16th century.
Maß or Maaß
- unit of volume; used to measure wine, beer & honey
- 1 Augsburger Maß (in 1537) = 1.428 liter (according to this source, pdf, p. 7) (I used this weight and volume conversion to convert liter to kilogram)
1 Maß honey (Augsburg, 1537) ≈ 2.1 kg / 4.5 lbs.
- unit of weight; used to measure sugar etc.
- 1 Nürnberger Pfund (in 1558) = 483 g (according to this source, pdf, p. 6)
1 1/2 Pfund sugar (Nuremberg, 1558) = 725 g / 1.6 lb.
- unit of volume; used to measure grains, flour etc.
- 1 Schaff = 8 Metzen (picture of Garser Metzen, 1344) = 32 Vierling = 128 Viertel = 512 Mäßle
- 1 Schaff = 205.3 liter (according to this source, pdf, p. 8)
- 1 Vierling = 6.42 liter
- 1 Vierling flour ≈ 2.7 kg (wheat flour) = 3.5 kg (whole wheat flour)
1 Vierling whole wheat flour (Bavaria, 16th century) ≈ 2.8 kg / 6.2 lbs.
Lot & Quintel
- unit of weight; used to measure spices etc.
- 1 Pfund = 16 Unzen = 32 Lot = 128 Quintel = 512 Sechzehntel = 7680 Grän (according to this source, pdf, p. 4)
1 Lot (Bavaria, 16th century) = 15 g
Quintel = 3.75 g
Original Medieval Nürnberger Lebkuchen
- 700 g / 1.5 lb. honey – honeydew, heath or wildflower honey
- 240 g / 0.5 lb. muscovado sugar
- 930 g / 2.1 lbs. wheat flour – I used sifted home milled wheat grains
- gingerbread spice mix 1 or 2
- optional: blanched almond halves
- optional: rosewater
Medieval Gingerbread Spice Mix 1
This is the original spice mix that Sabina Welserin published in her cookbook in 1553, except that I reduced the amount of nutmeg and mace because nutmeg is toxic in large amounts.
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 3 tbsp ginger
Medieval Gingerbread Spice Mix 2
Instead of the spice mix above, you can also use the following medieval Nürnberger Lebkuchen spice mix. This recipe is also from the 16th century and can be viewed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.
Both spice mixes are delicious but I prefer this gingerbread spice mix just a little bit more because it’s so cinnamony! 😀
- 4 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp ginger
- 1 tbsp cardamom
- two pinches of pepper
- two pinches of nutmeg
How To Make Medieval Nürnberger Lebkuchen
Coarsely grind the spices: Don’t grind them into a fine powder. The medieval lebkuchen recipe says that the spices should only be coarsely ground for more flavor. I used a mortar and pestle to crush the spices.
Combine honey and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour the hot honey over the flour and coarsely ground spices. Stir everything together and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes or 1 hour. Then roll the dough out 1/2″ (1cm) thick on a floured surface. Cut out rectangles with a knife. If you want, you can decorate the lebkuchen with blanched almond halves. Then let the lebkuchen rest overnight at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Optional: Brush the top with rosewater. I brushed the top and bottom of half of the lebkuchen three times as in the original Nürnberger Lebkuchen recipe, but the lebkuchen with rosewater didn’t taste different than the lebkuchen without.
Bake the lebkuchen for 20 minutes.
Medieval Lebkuchen Vs. Modern Lebkuchen
If you’ve already made (or bought) Nuremberg lebkuchen before, don’t be disappointed that these aren’t like modern Nuremberg lebkuchen. 😉 Because they are really different! Today, Nuremberg lebkuchen are made with ground almonds and hazelnuts, marzipan, and eggs. Elisen lebkuchen are made without flour. And some non-traditional recipes even add butter to lebkuchen!
On the other hand, Medieval Nuremberg lebkuchen, are made with a lot of flour but don’t contain fat, nuts, eggs or other leavening agents, such as baking powder. These Medieval lebkuchen are the traditional form of lebkuchen. Medieval Nürnberger lebkuchen are hard like hardtack or the gingerbread hearts you may know from Oktoberfest.
Related: Traditional Hardtack Recipe
Medieval Nürnberger lebkuchen are also a lot spicier than you might be used from store-bought lebkuchen – but in a good way! Spices were a very expensive ingredient in the Medieval Period, so lebkuchen were a special treat at Christmas time. Sometimes, lebkuchen were gifted to poor children: This would’ve been a very special treat for them – probably like a once-in-a-lifetime treat!
Help! My Lebkuchen Turned Out Hard!
As I’ve mentioned before, medieval Nuremberg lebkuchen are hard like the gingerbread hearts that are sold at Oktoberfest. Because these lebkuchen are hard, they could be stored for a longer time, just like hardtack.
But there are some tricks to turn these rock-hard gingerbread cookies into less hard, edible cookies. But keep in mind, that the Medieval lebkuchen will never be as soft as modern lebkuchen that are made with nuts and eggs.
The first trick for soft lebkuchen is to put the lebkuchen into cookie tins immediately after you remove them from the oven while they’re still hot. Be careful, because the lebkuchen will still be almost too hot to touch but you have to be very quick or the lebkuchen loose their moisture and become hard. If the lebkuchen are cool enough to touch it’s too late! 😉
Lebkuchen are traditionally stored in metal cookie tins. But you can also store them in airtight glass cookie jars. I wouldn’t recommend storing them in plastic cookie containers because lebkuchen take on the plastic smell. Traditionally, lebkuchen are often stored together with an apple slice in Germany. However, if you’re worried about mold growing on the apple slice, you can also use a slice of fresh bread instead. But putting Medieval Nuremberg lebkuchen into tins while hot, is usually enough to make them soft enough to be edible.
Troubleshooting: How To Soften Hard Lebkuchen
Apart from the two tips above to make Medieval Nürnberger lebkuchen softer, there are three more ticks to soften up already cool, hard gingerbread cookies. First, you can try reheating them for a short time in the oven until they’re hot again. Then put the hot lebkuchen immediately into cookie tins.
Or you can leave Nuremberg lebkuchen on a plate for some weeks at room temperature: This usually softens up hard lebkuchen very effectively because they absorb the moisture from the air over time. Therefore lebkuchen were traditionally baked some weeks before Christmas!
Related: The Victorian Christmas Tree
And if you don’t want to wait that long, you can also dip Medival Nürnberger lebkuchen into tea, coffee or milk. Just like the Romans dipped their hard unleavened bread in wine and British sailors dunked hardtack in beer to soften it up!