This year I decided that in honor of our first Christmas together, I would make lebkuchen.
First of all, you either need to plan ahead and order an ingredient online, or you need a specialty food store in close proximity. (just FYI, Walmart does not qualify) This was my first red flag that making lebkuchen is not easy. I started my hunt for the appropriate items at Walmart. Fortunately, the majority of the items were easily found there. I hit up the baking aisle in search of "fruit peel". Ooo ooo, I found fruit cake mix! I check the ingredients list that my mom emailed me (passed down from my sweet great grandma E)in which it clearly states "do not use fruit cake mix". :( No biggie I figured, I'll just grab that at the local grocery store. I gave up at Walmart and then hit several other local grocery stores. Word of caution here-don't bother asking anyone at the store if they carry fruit peel or even fruit cake mix. When you ask if they carry fruit peel, they honestly all look at you like your nuts. One helpful store stocker replied "can you just buy whole fruit and peel it?" um, no. Everyone I inquired to about fruitcake mix wanted to know if I was really going to make fruit cake. No fellow fruitcake haters, I wasn't going to make fruitcake, I just didn't want to go back into Walmart for fruit cake mix. Finally, I located fruit cake mix at a local "large" grocery store chain. Fortunately, my mom and I were chatting on the phone at this point (about the true necessity of the elusive fruit peel mix) when she mentioned "make sure you get small eggs". Easy enough, I thought. I live in a farming type community so I bet I can even find farm fresh eggs.
Apparently, there is no longer a need for small eggs. In today's kitchens, we require the following:
Extra large eggs
or, my personal favorite...
I'm not clear on the difference between JUMBO and extra large eggs, but to my great disappointment, I couldn't even find medium eggs. So, I went with the smallest eggs I could find (aka large eggs) and headed home with all of the ingredients-even if a few were substitutions.
After gathering all of the ingredients, I realized why my grandma B used to put rum in her cookies. This was going to take some serious work. I prepared myself with the following...
When you make lebkuchen, you really need to set aside a full two days or more. The first day you need to gather your ingredients and make the dough. The dough then needs to be refrigerated overnight. It took some time to mix together all the ingredients. (That reminds me, I need to get a larger mixing bowl.). I was very grateful for my kitchen aid mixer, a gift several years ago from grandma B, and my kitchen aid food processor from my mom! These two items were practically a necessity in getting the dough put together in under two hours. I did have a small audience for support during this part of the preparation:
Finally, the next day, I rolled out the dough, cut out the cookies, made the frosting, baked, frosted and decorated my mini masterpieces. I admit, the cookies were a bit thin, but they tasted very close to what I remember my mom baking for us as kids!
I was very proud of my two day baking production and super excited to have E taste one. His response....."they're good" that was it. Just a simple they're good. He added, "i like the ones you made last year better". Talk about pouring salt in an open wound! Those dang cookies take about an hour to make- they are just simple slice and bake type cookies-although you do make the dough from scratch. I ended up only baking up half the dough. I don't think E has even tried another. I, on the other hand, am trying to limit my cookie consumption and save some for my in-laws.
To make matters worse, I received an email from my mom recently with an updated lebkuchen recipe. She made them this year too! Next time I make them, I need to add an additional cup of flour. I'm hoping for Santa (mom) to share some of her cookies this year. They taste SO much better when someone else makes them, especially my mom.