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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dicker Lebkuchen

Also known as "thick gingerbread". This recipe is from a pretty old, fairly dubious piece of research called "Encyclopaedia of European Cooking" from 1963. It covers most of Europe from a very British-centric early 60s viewpoint and the general feeling is that most of the countries' recipes should be well avoided. I've just been reading Julian Barnes A Pedant In The Kitchen (great stuff) and reckon this book fits right into one of his cookbook ownership criteria:

"Avoid books with too wide a compass - anything remotely called Great Dishes of the World - or too narrow a one: Sargasso Seafood or Waffle Wonderment. "

Love it! Anyway, I had mentioned this book once when I made a honigkeok from a pretty dubious recipe in the Dutch secion. It turned out flat as a board and just sat there in a sulk even refusing to be toasted. However, someone in Australia wrote to me a few weeks ago to say that their parents' house burnt down in a fire a few months ago, with all their belongings, and this book which contained all their treasured Christmas recipes went with it. In her searching online for a replacement she found a link to my blog and asked asked if it would be at all possible to copy a couple of pages for her so she could surprise her family with their traditional Christmas cakes and puddings this year. Absolutely. And it made me feel good. See what a tangible way we can make somebody's Christmas happier through our foodblogs. :-)
She did note that she was of a similar opinion to me regarding this book of dubious merit: "Just don't try to cook anything but the German and English recipes from it!" and in keeping with that, the recipes she asked for were from the English and German sections; Christmas pudding; Royal Icing; Christmas cake; Marble Cake; and Thick Gingerbread - this she noted was particularly good as you left it overnight.

Well, with that kind of background, family tradition, and recommendation I just had to try it, It was easy to whip up, although I was little taken back by the amount of flour and treacle it required - half a kilo of each! I didn't have any almonds at home, so I subsitituted hazelnuts which I prefer in flavour anyway. The instruction to leave overnight was one I interpreted as to leave overnight in the fridge. This is evidently not the case as the next day I had to chip bits out of the pot with a carving knife. It made smoothing the surface a bit of an issue and I resorted to pummelling with my fists. No, I believe they mean to leave overnight at room temperature. Anyway, I think the recipe benefits from it as the flavours really develop in that time. I actually added a little fresh ginger and ground cloves to my version, as both are flavours I enjoy and work well in spicy treacle-based cakes.
The instruction for oven temperature was pretty vague. "Very Moderate". Well, what's that supposed to mean?? I set my oven to 165 C and cooked it for an hour. I was disappointed when taking it out as it seemed pretty hard and overcooked. I decided I had botched the recipe. Left it in the fridge, cooked it too long... Bah! However, I offered a piece to somebody who knows about these sort of things and they commented that it looked really good, but was maybe a little soft? They reckoned it could be harder! Geez! Do German people look forward to breaking their teeth at Christmas?!?
I like the flavour of this. It's not too sweet and has a real dark spiciness. It'd be perfect in cold weather with hot, steaming mugs of whatever you drink in snowy weather. But it's just as enjoyable here in the Aussie summer.
Read on for the recipe:

Dicker Lebkuchen
(Thick Gingerbread)

1 lb (500g) self-raising flour
1 lb (500g) dark treacle (or molasses)
4 oz (125g) brown sugar
3 oz (90g) chopped blanched almonds (or hazelnuts)
4 oz (125g) candied peel
4 oz (125g) butter
1 level teaspoon each: bicarbonate of soda and ground cinnamon
2 full teaspoons ground ginger
2-3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Boil the sugar and treacle together until the sugar has dissolved, take from the heat, and stir in the butter. Sift the flour into a bowl with the spices, stir in the almonds and peel. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the hot mixture, then as it froths, pour it into the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Leave all night (at room temperature - not in the fridge!). Next day, spread it in a greased tin to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches. Brush the smoothed surgace over twice with the beaten egg and milk. Bake in a very moderate oven (~165 C) for about 1 hour. When the gingerbread has cooled, cut into squares.


  • Very unusual, but I'm glad that it turned out well. I just love those cake toppers you used, Niki.

    By Blogger Nic, at 12/17/2005 04:20:00 am  

  • This is soo funny. I experience it the other way: when i make cheesecake or anything like that, i keep on wondering if it isnt to fluffy, whether it should be hard or soft, as i have nothing to compare it to in Holland. So you have it with European recipes, i with American/Aussie/ Canadian recipes... Well, if it does not turn out well, you can always blame it on the people in that country, like: wow, crazy people those americans to eat this and this... hehe.

    By Blogger Corianne, at 12/17/2005 09:31:00 am  

  • Hi Niki, what a great story. It's so nice you were able to help maintain someone else's Christmas baking traditions.

    By Blogger Kelly, at 12/17/2005 04:53:00 pm  

  • Hi Nic - they're cute aren't they. They're actually props from a little wooden Christmas tree I bought last year. The two of them stand at the base. I just love the fact the whole tree and the ornaments are carved from wood, not plastic.

    Bakingfreak - I can understand!! I love European recipes but sometimes find myself slightly confused. However, not so much as when I'm cooking from an American recipe. I think Australian baking goods, because they're related to the British have more of a similarity to European cooking - with textures, flavours etc. However,I'm also a bit stumped with the very rich textures, creaminess and sweetness of a lot of American-based recipes. I do note that they tend towards a greater sweetness than Brits/Europeans/Australians are used to. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way that takes some adjustment when you taste it. Like "Oooh - it's *supposed* to be this sweet/thick/creamy etc!!" :-)

    Kelly- it is, isn't it! I loved being able to assist her, and I hope they have a great surprise. I often think how awful it would be if our house and belonging were destroyed in a fire, so I had great empathy for her.

    By Blogger Niki, at 12/18/2005 01:36:00 pm  

  • Thanks for this recipe, it looks yummy. I am gonna give it a try for christmas. Have a great xmas and new year.

    By Blogger rasita, at 12/18/2005 03:26:00 pm  

  • That's great that you could do that for her. I get so attached to old cookbooks, even if I don't cook from them much anymore. I recently bought a copy of the Women's Weekly Big book of Beautiful Biscuits at a sale (even though they'd changed the cover in the last ten years or so!). My birthday gift copy had gone missing years ago and even though I might not make many of these anymore, it brought back such memories.

    By Blogger plum, at 12/18/2005 10:24:00 pm  

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