Lebkuchen (German Gingerbread Bars) Recipe

Lebkuchen is a traditional German baked treat often associated with the Christmas season, much like gingerbread. It dates back to the Middle Ages and has its origins in Franconia, Germany. Lebkuchen is known for its rich, deep flavor and it gets its name from Lebkuchengewürz, the traditional German spice mix used for making Lebkuchen and other German holiday treats such as pfeffernüsse. The blend typically includes a variety of spices like aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and allspice. Lebkuchen also uses honey or molasses as a sweetener, giving it a distinct taste. 

Additionally, Lebkuchen often contains nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts, which are not typically found in American gingerbread. The texture of Lebkuchen is usually softer and more cake-like than American gingerbread, which tends to be more crisp and cookie-like. While both Lebkuchen and American gingerbread can be decorated with icing, the decoration on Lebkuchen is typically plainer and more traditional, often just a light glaze. These simple Lebkuchen bars are baked in a slab and cut into squares to provide you with all of the delicious holiday flavor of gingerbread without the fuss of using cookie cutters.

Gather the ingredients for Lebkuchen (German Gingerbread Bars)

This specific recipe for Lebkuchen does not include many of the mix-in ingredients that can be found in other Lebkuchen recipes. In this way, it can serve as a base for you to adapt to your tastes, or you can keep it simple and make it as-is. The base of the dough is made from a mixture of all-purpose flour, almond meal, baking soda, and baking powder. The almond meal adds a nice texture as well as the hallmark flavor of almonds usually found in Lebkuchen. 

The bars get their sweetness from a combination of brown sugar and honey, while softened butter and egg add richness. The spices are a mixture of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. A touch of milk adds moisture and some orange zest infuses the dough with a hit of fragrant citrus. Finally, the glaze is made with powdered sugar whisked with a touch of dark rum and melted butter.

Step 1: Preheat the oven

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Step 2: Prepare the pan

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Step 3: Whisk the dry ingredients

In a bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

Step 4: Beat the butter and sugar

In another large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy.

Step 5: Add the egg

Add the egg and continue to beat until well combined.

Step 6: Add the other wet ingredients

Mix the honey, milk, and orange zest into the butter mixture.

Step 7: Add the dry ingredients

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Step 8: Transfer the batter to a pan

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Step 9: Bake the bars

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Step 10: Make the glaze

While the Lebkuchen is baking, whisk together powdered sugar, melted butter, and dark rum. Add 1 teaspoon warm water if needed to create a pourable consistency.

Step 11: Ice the Lebkuchen

Let the Lebkuchen cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then drizzle the icing over the top and spread to form a smooth layer.

Step 12: Cut into squares and serve

Allow it to cool completely before cutting it into squares to serve.

What can I add to this simple Lebkuchen to make it more traditional?

To make this batch of simple slab Lebkuchen bars more like the traditional version, you can incorporate a variety of classic ingredients that are deeply rooted in the heritage of this German treat. One key addition is nuts — typically, almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts are finely ground or chopped and folded into the dough, enriching the texture and flavor. This recipe uses almond meal, but you could also include more roughly chopped toasted nuts for a little crunch. Candied citrus peel, such as orange or lemon peel, is another traditional ingredient that adds a delightful fragrant sweetness and a slight tang. For a more complex and nuanced flavor, consider integrating a spoonful of apricot or plum jam. 

Feel free to add more spices, such as ground cardamom, anise, allspice, or even coriander. Some recipes also call for a small amount of finely chopped crystallized ginger or a splash of rum for an extra depth of flavor. You can also decorate the top with whole almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts to make the presentation even more festive.

Can I freeze Lebkuchen bars, and how should they be stored to maintain freshness?

Lebkuchen bars can be frozen — they actually freeze quite well, which makes them a great make-ahead addition to holiday cookie boxes. To freeze them, first ensure that they have cooled completely after baking. Then, wrap them individually or in small batches with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and place them in an airtight container or a freezer-safe ziplock bag. They can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

When you're ready to enjoy them, simply thaw them at room temperature for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. For storage without freezing, keep the Lebkuchen bars in an airtight container at room temperature. They will stay fresh for about 2 weeks. In fact, Lebkuchen often tastes better after it has been stored for a few days, as this allows the flavors to meld and develop more fully. Some people also store a small piece of apple or a slice of bread in the container with the Lebkuchen to help maintain moisture and keep them soft.

Lebkuchen (German Gingerbread Bars) Recipe
4.9 from 24 ratings
Lebkuchen, a traditional German gingerbread, is flavored with spices, honey, and citrus. These simple bars have all the holiday flavor without the fuss.
Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
25
minutes
Servings
12
Servings
Squares of soft spiced Lebkuchen
Total time: 35 minutes
Ingredients
  • For the gingerbread
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup milk
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • For the Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.
  4. In another large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy.
  5. Add the egg and continue to beat until well combined.
  6. Mix the honey, milk, and orange zest into the butter mixture.
  7. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  8. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. While the Lebkuchen is baking, whisk together powdered sugar, melted butter, and dark rum. Add 1 teaspoon warm water if needed to create a pourable consistency.
  11. Let the Lebkuchen cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then drizzle the icing over the top and spread to form a smooth layer.
  12. Allow it to cool completely before cutting into squares to serve.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 327
Total Fat 11.8 g
Saturated Fat 5.8 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 38.9 mg
Total Carbohydrates 52.4 g
Dietary Fiber 1.5 g
Total Sugars 34.6 g
Sodium 194.1 mg
Protein 4.2 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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