winter solstice tradition

Growing up near Nana & Papa, with very few traditions lingering in our own home, December meant a few things I still crave: The Nutcracker + lebkuchen + toy trains (not Thomas please). The first performance of The Nutcracker ballet took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 18, 1892. One of the directors of the Imperial Ballet, which was sponsored by the Czar of Russia, thought that a popular story by a famous German author would make a perfect Christmas ballet. And he was correct! To me, it is perfect for its musical composition (a march, a Chinese dance, an Arabian dance, a Russian dance, etc), for the costumes, for the set design, & for toys coming to life (not to mention beautiful dances). This was my introduction to ballet, & it's soundtrack fills our kitchen from November until January.


Lebkuchen is the sort of gingerbread that is most feasible to make houses from, as in Hansel & Gretel. Uncle George stocked it alongside pfeffernusse (tastes like licorice in a baked good) each December. The heavy dough is perfect for using cookie cutters & glazing or dipping in chocolate, and the cookies improve with age! For those who aren't huge fans of cloves, nutmeg is a perfectly legitimate substitute (which I do for Nic).

lebkuchen wreath
Classic Lebkuchen

For nut flour
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 3/4 cups rye flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbspground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves (or sub nutmeg)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
For cookies
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup mild honey
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated rind of lemon or orange (original recipes use finely chopped mixed candied fruit such as citron, orange & lemon)
  • parchment paper
For icing
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 Tbsp water or milk

Make nut flour:
Finely grind nuts with remaining nut flour ingredients in a food processor.
Make dough:
Beat together brown sugar, honey, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in nut flour at low speed until just blended, then stir in candied fruit. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 min!
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Rolls dough into 2 in balls & bake atop parchment paper (above we made a large wreath by doubling the recipe & kneading all purpose flour into chilled dough & rolling/cutting out). Bake until cookie surface no longer appears wet, but they start to bubble a bit (like pancakes), about 13 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.
Ice cookies (a day after baking):
Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl, then stir in milk/water until smooth. Evenly brush tops of cooled cookies with icing. Let icing set, about 1 hour.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails