Friday, December 19, 2008
In the annals of cookie baking, we all have our guarded favorites. Some of them are passed down through our grandmothers or aunties. Others are clipped from glossy magazines and stacked among yellowed newspaper clippings of years gone by. Some are tasted in distant and faraway foreign bakeries where we resolve to recreate them in our own kitchens, chewing slowly as we mentally calibrate the ratios of ingredients that might someday produce the right texture and unique flavor we hold in our memories. I can’t say that I remember where or when I tasted my first Lebkuchen Cookie, but it was love at first bite. It struck all of the favorite notes on my palate and for me, it is of the essence of this season. Deeply rich with spices, nuts, citrus and honey, cloaked in a veil of chocolate and crowned with a light glaze, these are among my very favorite cookies.
Since these delicious cookies are quite cakey in texture, this year I thought I’d see if I could make a Lebkuchen Cake. I think the Lebkuchen first baked by Medieval monks in the 13th century began as a cake, so I'm not too far off the mark. It does translate very well and comes together pretty quickly when you’d like a festive treat but perhaps don’t have the time to form, bake and decorate dozens of cookies. With all of these wonderful old world winter ingredients, this cake definitely brings the holiday spirit into sharp focus.
- Since kuchen means “cake,” it’s a bit redundant to call this a Lebkuchen Cake, but I’m not sure how else to refer to it!
- This cake is not exceedingly rich, so would be a nice ending to any meal.
- The citrus element is really central. If you don’t have any candied orange and lemon peel, try adding zest.
- When blending the cream and chocolate for the glaze, let the mixture sit for two or three minutes before stirring so it has a chance to begin to melt the chocolate. Then stir slowly to prevent the mixture from cooling down too fast so you're not left with any lumps.
- If you aren’t comfortable with glazing a cake, make more glaze than needed to be sure you can generously flood the cake. Use 1 C heavy cream, 8 oz chopped chocolate and 1 T honey or corn syrup. The extra can be retrieved from the parchment, rewarmed and used for dipping cookies or chilled and rolled into truffles.
1 C flour
1/4 C hazelnuts
1/4 C almonds
1 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 T cocoa
1 1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/4 t cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1/8 t cardamom
6 oz butter (1 1/2 sticks) @ room temperature
1 C brown sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 T honey
1 T cognac or brandy
1 1/2 t candied orange peel, very finely chopped
1 t candied lemon peel, very finely chopped
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3/4 C heavy cream
1 T honey or light corn syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a parchment round. Butter the parchment and dust the bottom and sides with flour.
Place the flour, almonds, hazelnuts, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a food processor. Process a couple of minutes until the nuts are very finely ground into the flour. Pour into a bowl.
Beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and cream the mixture on medium speed until pale, light and very fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the honey, cognac, orange and lemon peel. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the nut flour by hand in three batches, mixing just enough to moisten and blend. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top.
Bake in the center of the oven for about 26 – 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin blade knife around the cake to loosen and invert. Flip the cake back over to right side up and cool completely.
To glaze the cake, place the cooled cake on a an 8" cardboard round or removable tart pan bottom. Return the cake to the cooling rack and place over a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a medium bowl.
Bring cream and honey or corn syrup to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Pour over chocolate and let stand a couple of minutes. Whisk slowly and gently starting in the middle and then working outward in concentric circles until completely combined.
Glaze the cake, pouring quickly in the center and around the edges. Tap the baking sheet on the work surface to encourage the glaze to run down the sides if necessary. Just as it begins to dry, run a small spatula around the underside of the cake to smooth the bottom edge and prevent “feet” from forming. Let glaze dry before serving.