German Holiday Recipes: Lebkuchen & Glühwein

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If you’re looking for new holiday traditions, or wanting to recreate healthy versions of treats that you loved while stationed in Germany, you’ve come to the right place. We have Lebkuchen and Glühwein recipes for you that are perfect for health-conscious kitchens, but so delicious they’re sure to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

There is a special magic surrounding the holiday season in Germany. Those of us fortunate enough to have been stationed there have fond memories of walking through fairytale Christmas markets filled with wooden stalls adorned with twinkling lights, rustic wares, and seasonal foods. Maybe we purchased a wooden ornaments or two, thrilled our children with a camel ride under thick snowflakes the size of silver dollars, or toured the castle where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German. Tourists abound at some of the more famous markets like Nürnberg. But in the smaller villages, neighbors gather, warmed by hot mulled wine called Glühwein, open fire pits, and the company of friends and neighbors whom they’ve known for a lifetime.

Lebkuchen from Kimberly’s Kitchen

The season wouldn’t be complete without Lebkuchen, a spiced fruit and nut cookie, usually covered in chocolate. Everyone in my village said that my neighbor made the best Lebkuchen. That’s saying a lot in a place where women routinely make bakery-quality desserts. Happily my neighbor came over one day to show me how to make it. She didn’t have a recipe, but I carefully measured and wrote everything down.

Her recipe was pretty healthy with nut flour, eggs, candied fruit, and a hard chocolate shell, but it did contain white sugar. And, here in the States, the chocolate coating and the candied fruit is often full of questionable ingredients. Having sworn off highly refined sugars before Halloween, I took on the challenge of making a tasty Lebkuchen with better ingredients, like coconut sugar and unsweetened dried fruit. Happily, Erica Chard became an InDependent contributor just in time to help me make the chocolate used to cover the cookies. I’m really excited about how easy it was to make my own dark chocolate with honey or maple syrup. I had some leftover chocolate so I simply poured it onto a parchment-lined plate and put it in the fridge. It hardened perfectly into a chocolate bar.

The Lebkuchen ingredients are simple, but not necessarily available at the commissary or a traditional grocery store. That means that that the price tag can be pretty high, but for me it’s okay for a once-a-year tradition. I’ve found several commissaries that carry coconut sugar, which is exciting. But if yours doesn’t, ask them to order it, or go to a well-stocked grocery store. I ordered the raw cacao powder and the cocoa butter from Amazon. I was lucky and had my husband bring back the Lebkuchen Gewürz spices from a TDY in Germany, but you can easily make your own.  My almond meal came from Trader Joe’s, though you could grind your own in a food processor from raw almonds. I also found my dried fruit at Trader Joe’s. I used unsweetened apples and peaches, but you could experiment with you own combinations. The Oblaten wafers that you traditionally find on the bottom of Lebkuchen are also available on Amazon. They are made out of wheat flour and starch, so definitely leave those out if you avoid gluten. They are nice to help stabilize the cookie while dipping in chocolate, but they are not mandatory.

Lebkuchen

Makes: generous 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 9 medium eggs
  • 2 cups coconut sugar
  • 1 pound raw pecans, finely ground
  • 1 pound almond meal (or finely ground raw almonds)
  • 1 pound unsweetened dried fruit (I used apples and peaches)
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 3 tablespoons Lebkuchen Gewürz
  • 1 recipe Hard Chocolate Shell (recipe below)

optional: Oblaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Lightly beat eggs in a stand mixer. (You can make this recipe without a stand mixer but prepare for an arm workout.) Add remaining ingredients and beat on low until combined. Mixture should be thick and not too wet.
  3. Scoop two tablespoons of the mixture about two inches apart onto (put the Oblaten wafers down first if using) parchment-lined cookie sheets. Gently flatten with the palm of a wet hand. Rewet hands when dough starts to stick to hands.
  4. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cookies should be lightly browned and spring back when lightly touched. Let cool on a baking rack.
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  6. When cookies are cool, prepare one recipe of the Hard Chocolate Shell. Using a fork on the underside of the cookies, dip the tops and sides of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place onto parchment or foil lined cookie sheets to let harden for at least 15-20 minutes, but even longer is great to really make sure the chocolate is set.
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  8. Store in the refrigerator to maintain the firm chocolate shell.

Hard Chocolate Shell

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Melt raw cocoa butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. When melted, stir in raw honey. When combined, whisk in raw cacao powder, vanilla, and sea salt. Taste to see if the sweetness is to your liking. If not, stir in a bit more honey. If the mixture is too thin, add more cacao powder. Then adjust sweetness to taste.
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  3. If you have leftovers, pour onto a parchment-lined plate to make a chocolate bar.

Glühwein from Leslie’s Kitchen

Glühwein is traditionally flavored with citrus and spices, but fruit flavors are on the rise —blueberry, raspberry, cranberry —you name it. In the spirit of my first German Christmas, I decided to tweak the traditional version by adding pomegranate juice, and this recipe was born. Warning: This recipe will be very potent the first time you taste it. It may have juice in it but it is still wine and very strong. Enjoy responsibly!

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Pomegranate Orange Glühwein

from the kitchen of Leslie Brians

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dry red wine (preferably a Cabernet, but if you’re really lucky a Dornfelder)
  • peel of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups 100% pomegranate juice, unsweetened
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange (roughly 1/2 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 cinnamon sticks (plus more for garnish)

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat wine over medium heat.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and pour into a strainer to remove cloves, orange peel, and cinnamon sticks.
  4. Taste and adjust seasons per desired sweetness. Divide into four mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange peel.

Do you have favorite holiday foods from overseas assignments that you’ve incorporated into your holiday traditions? Please share!