Authentic “Nürnberger Lebkuchen” (Gingerbread), a recipe with history

Jump to recipe

Lebkuchen

The Nuremberg or Nürnberger Lebkuchen manufacturers have always baked, not only for the needs of the Nuremberg residents, but also for long-distance trade. The Gingerbreads went “all over the world” on old trade routes and with them the good reputation

Elisen Lebkuchen, Gingerbread, Nuremberg
Nuremberg Gingerbread, Elisen, Lebkuchen

The most famous Nuremberg Lebkuchen are the “Elisen” which are round shaped gingerbread cookies baked on thin white wafers. They are named after the Baker’s daughter

The name “Nürnberger Lebkuchen” is a protected trademark, and anyone can be sure that type of Gingerbread is made in Nuremberg.

The Lebkuchen you see below is made without flour and is called Elisen, named after a Nuremberg baker’s daughter Elise.

Nuremberg Gingerbread, Elisen, Lebkuchen
Nürnberger Elisen Lebkuchen

When was the Lebkuchen or Gingerbread made? The story of Lebkuchen began thousands of years ago. A first written reference to Gingerbread can be found around 350 BC. BC, but even the ancient Egyptians coated cakes with honey and baked them together. According to the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Teutons, honey was a gift from the world of Gods. And the Bible also speaks of the “promised land in which milk and honey flow”. This explains why in ancient times honey was ascribed as a divine gift as having demon-driving, healing and life-giving effects.

You will need dried fruits like the ones you can buy on Amazon below, or make your own candied Orange and Lemon peel in the Instant Pot here

Franconian monks invented the Lebkuchen in the 13th century

Lebkuchen was mentioned in 1296 in Ulm and in 1395 in Nuremberg. Why it was called Lebkuchen is uncertain. It might has derived from Laib (loaf), Leben (life), lebbe (sweet), or Leib (body). Some say it could have been “Leb-Honig” which is crystallized honey and used mostly for baking. Lebkuchen is also known sometimes as Pfefferkuchen or Honigkuchen , depending on the ingredients. This type of Lebkuchen or Gingerbread was served with a strong dark beer during Lent.

German Gingerbread, Lebkuchen

To prevent Lebkuchen dough from sticking, it is usually placed on a thin wafer base called Oblaten, which is made with the same ingredients as (and resembles) unleavened communion wafers (a monk’s idea). Lebkuchen made without flour is called Elisen, named for a Nuremberg baker’s daughter.

You can buy the Wafers or Back Oblaten on Amazon:

In the Middle Ages, Pfeffer or Pepper was the collective term for all spices whose stomach-friendly effect was well known in monastery kitchens, to promote digestion and alleviate the feeling of fullness. So the resourceful monks seasoned their Lebkuchen with everything that Venice’s ships brought into the harbor, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, cloves cinnamon, ginger, anis, and of course with black pepper.

There is documentary evidence of a Nuremberg Lebkuchen were baked in the Schmidgasse in 1395. A particularly memorable day was in 1487, when Kaiser Friedrich III came to Nuremberg and the local kids were invited to a big meal at the Imperial Castle. Almost 4,000 children were given Lebkuchen with a portrait of the emperor Friedrich on it. The actual craft of gingerbread was not officially spoken of until the 17th century. Nuremberg council finally approved the establishment of its own Nuremberg Lebkuchen-Gingerbread guild, after almost a hundred years of unsuccessful striving for independence in 1643

German Lebkuchen, Gingerbread

Since 1441 a Spice Show was held in Nuremberg. Sworn auditors checked the quality of the spices delivered. The Thirty Years War brought a severe decline for the Nuremberg Lebkuchen, the merchants were no longer delivered spices, the city was basically cut off from the rest of the world. This shortage lasted for almost two centuries.

Spices at Market place
Spices you can buy on the Market

The change came with the freedom of trade in 1867 by the transition from handycraft to industrial production. But that did not happen overnight. The mass production required the development and construction of special machines that were suitable for the heavy gingerbread dough.

The two world wars brought hard blows to the Nuremberg Lebkuchen industry. During WWI was an unimaginable shortage of raw materials. In December 1916, baking gingerbread was banned because it was a luxury. Virtually none of the Nuremberg gingerbread factories survived WWII without damage, some were completely destroyed in the bombing. Almost all of them have been completely rebuilt, expanded and modernized.

This Lebkuchen tradition has been preserved to this day. Schmidt Lebkuchen is the best known Manufacturer in Nürnberg.

Don’t feel like baking? Order your Lebkuchen here: