Lebkuchen have been made in Nuremberg since medieval times. This recipe for Nürnberger Lebkuchen (Nuremberg Lebkuchen) is from 1553! Isn’t that awesome? 😀
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Nuremberg Lebkuchen History
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. Honey hunters gathered honey from wild bee colonies in the large forest that surrounds Nuremberg (old drawing of honey hunters). In earlier times, the Nuremberg forest was also called “The bee garden of the Holy Roman Empire”. Nuremberg was also one of the two largest trade centers on the route from Italy to Northern Europe in medieval times. So there was no shortage of imported cane sugar and spices.
Related: Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Recipe From 200 Years Ago!
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
Medieval Gingerbread Ingredients
In the medieval era, flour contained more bran and was less finely ground than today. Therefore I used home-milled, coarse ground wheat flour. I combined 1 part coarse ground wholewheat flour with 1 part all-purpose flour for the medieval gingerbread.
As substitute, if you don’t have a grain mill at home, use graham flour. Or combine 1 part coarse ground whole wheat flour with 1 part all-purpose flour for the medieval gingerbread.
The vegetation in the Nuremberg forest consists mainly of pine trees, heather and some wildflowers. So to get the original medieval Nürnberger lebkuchen flavor it’s best to use honeydew, heath or wildflower honey.
In the medieval era, they would’ve used brown sugar. So, to stay true to the recipe, you can use muscovado sugar. But over the years, I baked the medieval lebkuchen sometimes with brown sugar and sometimes with ordinary white sugar. And both turned out the same: they looked and tasted the same.
Nuremberg lebkuchen are made with traditional gingerbread spices: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg & pepper. However, old gingerbread recipes are very special about how spices should be prepared for gingerbread. According to medieval lebkuchen recipes, you should never grind spices to a fine powder! Instead the spices should only be coarsely ground for more flavor. I used a mortar and pestle to crush the spices.
The medieval gingerbread recipe says to brush the top and bottom of the lebkuchen three times with rosewater. However, I tried both and I find that the lebkuchen with rosewater didn’t taste different than the lebkuchen without. But for truly decadent gingerbread, you can brush the top with rosewater before baking.
Related: How To Make Rosewater
Original Nürnberger Lebkuchen Recipe
- 1.5 lb. (700g) honey – honeydew, heath or wildflower honey
- 0.5 lb. (240g) muscovado sugar
- 2.1 lbs. (930g) 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 crush the spices using a mortar and pestle. Combine flour and coarsely ground spices in a large bowl.
Combine honey and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour the hot honey over the flour-spice-mixture. Knead everything together. Or it works just as well, to just stir everything together with a large spoon. Now let the dough rest for about 30 minutes or 1 hour.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/2″ (1cm). Cut out rectangles with a knife. Transfer the medieval gingerbread to lined baking sheets. If you want, you can decorate the lebkuchen with blanched almond halves.
Let the lebkuchen rest overnight at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Optional: Brush the top of the gingerbread with rosewater.
Bake the lebkuchen for 20 minutes. Put the Nürnberger lebkuchen into cookie tins immediately after you remove them from the oven while still hot.
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.
Related: Christmas Tree Cookies – Naturally Colored With Kale
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!
And if everything fails and the gingerbread is still hard, you can use the medieval gingerbread to flavor applesauce or red cabbage, or make traditional German gingerbread gravy.
Update: “Fermenting” Gingerbread
Old gingerbread recipes often say to let the dough rest for weeks! Since I often bake wild yeast bread and sourdough bread from scratch, I wondered if this long rest time would help the gingerbread rise. So I started an experiment: I put the gingerbread in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel and let the dough ferment for two weeks at room temperature.
The high amount of honey in the gingerbread dough prevents spoilage or mold growth. However, the honey obviously also prevents the growths of wild yeasts or lactobacilli. Because even after two weeks at room temperature, the gingerbread dough didn’t smell or taste sour like sourdough or yeasty like wild yeast bread.
Related: Sprouted Sourdough Bread From Scratch – No Flour & No Yeast
The “fermented” gingerbread dough looked and smelled exactly like fresh gingerbread dough. And even after baking, there was no difference between “fermented” and fresh gingerbread. So, either the rest time was still too short or the high amount of honey (or spices) in the gingerbread dough prevents the growth of wild yeasts and lactobacilli.
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72 thoughts on “Medieval Gingerbread – Nürnberger Lebkuchen Recipe”
Lina, I love food history! Thank you so much for this delightful, well-researched post and recipe. These cookies would go beautifully with my Earl Grey Eggnog!
Thanks Jean! 🙂 Merry Christmas!
An interesting summary of the history of these cookies – looks delicious. Thanks for sharing.#dreamteam
Thanks for stopping by, Noleen! 🙂
What an awesome old recipe! I enjoyed reading your post and seeing the old time measurements 🙂
Thanks Kelly! 🙂
These cookies look super yummy!
I have been stuffing my fave with Lebkuchen my mom sent me for the past few weeks and really wanted to learn more about them, they have always been a favorite of mine. Thanks for putting together this write up, it will be fun to try out the original recipe (might need to scale it down a bit).
Thanks Milena! 😀 Medieval Nürnberger Lebkuchen are totally different than today’s Nürnberger Lebkuchen: They are more like spicy honey cake. Let me know how you like them. Merry Christmas!
Ohh those look good and very trational Thank you for linking to #CookBlogShare.
Thank you Jacqui!
This looks delicious, what a lovely traditional recipe #fortheloveofBLOG
Sounds yummy! Thanks so much for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!
Thanks for stopping by, Leslie!
OK I love this historical recipe and everything about this post. We make a lot of German food and I’m definitely pinning this to try next holiday season. Thanks for linking up to the Friday Frenzy!
Thanks for your lovely comment, Amy! 😀 Let me know how you like them!
I adore lebkuchen, and the Nurnberger variety is my favorite. Often, you can get a really beautiful shiny glaze on it by brushing with eggwhite.
Can’t wait to try your recipe! Thanks for sharing with Party in Your PJs!
Thanks Lynda! These medieval Nürnberger Lebkuchen are totally different than today’s Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen: They are more like spicy honey cake. Let me know how you like them. Merry Christmas! 🙂
Thanks for joining us on #DreamTeam, please remember to add a badge in future link ups so you don’t miss out on comments and sharing.
There is a badge of your party on my link party page.
This looks really interesting, I’ve never made a recipe with rosewater before! #DreamTeam
Thanks for stopping by, Heather!
Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party – and Merry Christmas!
Thanks for stopping by, Helen! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
They look yummy and I loved learning their history! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
Thanks Jann! Happy New Year!
These look and sound delicious! And I love that this is the ancient recipe! How fun is that! Thanks so much for sharing and joining my link up.
Thank you Shelbee! 🙂 Happy New Year!
What a neat recipe…and I love the measurements. I sometimes find myself having to do a little bit of interpreting when I use some of my grandmother’s recipes. Not because she was from a different country, but because she had a unique writing style and her own way of measuring. It sure does make things fun! Thanks for linking up to the Friday Frenzy! Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck – Colleen
Thanks Colleen! Happy New Year!
I am a big fan of Lebkuchen as I adore ginger in biscuits – thank you for sharing the recipe Lina
Thanks Amber! Happy New Year!
I so enjoyed this post, Lina! I love Lebkuchen but I didn’t know the history of the recipe at all. It’s wonderful you’ve been able to work with the original recipe to make such delicious cookies! They look absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope to see you at the first part of the year on January 8th. Happy New Year!!
Thanks for your lovely comment, April! 🙂 Happy New Year!
I love these posts!
Thank you for linking up to #fakeituntilyoumakeit!
Thanks Samantha! 🙂
What fun to be able to share a historic cookie recipe with family and friends. Congrats, you’re featured this week at the This Is How We Roll Link party.
Thanks for featuring me! 🙂
I do historical baking in the society for creative anachronism, and I was so excited when I saw this recipe, it was just what I was looking for. I was surprised about the ingredients, no liquid other than honey, no eggs, no leavening. I think I must have done something wrong. As I tried to work with the dough it became incredibly hard. I baked the first batch for 15 minutes and it came out too hard to bite. I baked the second batch for 12 minutes and the third for 10, and I had to throw the entire thing in the trash. It is incredibly hard, but not dry or crumbly, hard and chewy, which makes it very unpleasant to try and eat. And I tried really hard because the flavor is so tasty. I tried dipping them in milk, in tea, warming in the microwave, and I can’t make them edible. What do you think I did wrong?
Traditional lebkuchen or German honey cake are hard at first but become soft with time. Therefore they were usually baked one or two months before Christmas. And some store lebkuchen in a container with an apple slice to soften them up.
Thanks for the reply! Should the be stored in an airtight container or left open? It didn’t occur to me to wait that long, I figured they would just get stale and worse. Now I’ll have to try baking them again.
I store them in a cookie tin lined with parchment paper. But lebkuchen have to be left open at room temperature for some days (before you plan to eat them) to become soft.
Another tip is to put lebkuchen into a tin while they’re still hot from baking. That way they usually stay chewy and don’t become rock hard.
But keep in mind that these medieval lebkuchen are more like German honey cake or Oktoberfest lebkuchen hearts, they never become soft like today’s Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
These look amazing and I love the sound of the ingredients, I really do want to try these. Well done for researching the recipe, it’s all really interesting.
Thanks so much, Anne! 😀
Fabulous post – I love the idea of baking from a traditional recipe this festive season! xx
What a wonderful post, Lina! I loved the history, the old and adapted recipes and the photos; I am definitely trying it soon.
Thank you so much, Irene! 😀 I’m glad you like it!
I hate history subjects, but I do love it when it is food related. It is so nice to know about these and I am sure they taste amazing! Thank you for being a part of Fiesta Friday #250 and thanks for bringing these with you!
Thanks, Jhuls! 😀
This was such an interesting read! I had no idea there was such a long history behind lebkuchen, and I wonder if these would taste like the ones I buy in the supermarket at Christmas! x #BloggerClubUK
Thanks so much, Madeline! 😀 The Medieval Nürnberger lebkuchen are really different to store-bought lebkuchen, they’re more like gingerbread.
I enjoy reading about the history of food. Never made lebkuchen but I’m sure they would be perfect for any holiday table. Thanks for coming to the party and sharing with Fiesta Friday.
Something new, something to try. Thanks – Friday Fiesta rocks.
Thanks for stopping by, Rita!
What a great post! I really enjoyed the history of the food and then a recipe I can actually use. I had to pin this one!! Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party. I hope your Thanksgiving is full of blessings.
Thanks for pinning, Helen! 🙂
The bit about the different weights was really interesting – I wonder why the same word was used for different amounts depending on time and place?
Anyway someone chose to add this post to the BlogCrush linky (that means they really enjoyed it). Congratulations! Feel free to pop over and grab your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush
Thanks, Lucy! 🙂 Each city had its own weights and capacity units like this stone ‘Metzen’ to measure grains.
Hello! What a delightful post. Seeing this made my day…thanks for sharing. I lived in Nürnberg when I was a child and still have quite a few Nürnberger Lebkuchen tins. Will be trying this recipe next Fall/Winter. ~Meli T.
Thank you so much, Meli! 😀 I’m glad you like the recipe!
Here’s a question, I’m considering doing this for a digital cookie exchange with a medieval theme, but in order to allow people to cook along in the time allotted, I can’t let it sit overnight before baking. How do you think this would affect the finished cookies?
I’ve always let the dough sit at least overnight before baking, so I don’t know how it affects the cookies. However, you can make a small batch for testing. If you try it, please let me know! 🙂