Happy Holidays everyone! I have made it no secret that I am Jewish…but I love Christmas, especially in D.C. I love the lights, elaborately decorated trees, and of course, holiday treats. This year, I was lucky to attend some fabulous holiday parties hosted by my friends and colleagues. Eggnog, mulled wine, apple cider, cheese and fruit platters, candied cranberries, panettone, peppermint bark, spritz cookies, and one of my favorites, gingerbread. This spiced holiday snack is truly an international treat, and comes in all sorts of forms-as a cookie, cake, bar, and even as a house! And who doesn’t remember the gingerbread man?
It is important to note that not many of the cookies and cakes that we call “gingerbread” today actually contain ginger. Ginger originated in Asia, and was introduced to Europeans during the age of exploration. Crusaders during the eleventh century also helped the spice spread across the globe. Still, ginger was very expensive, and available only to the nobility and wealthy. Its addition to baked goods came much, much later.
Gingerbread may be traced back to bakery in ancient Egypt, where Egyptians used added honey in an effort to both sweeten and preserve their cakes. Sound familiar? That’s right, this is the same story I told about honey cake earlier this year during the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. So gingerbread can totally be considered a Jewish food.
In fact, I received a wonderful Hannukkah present in the mail from my aunt, uncle, and cousins in New Jersey- a batch of homemade lebkuchen and accompanying recipe. My aunt found lebkuchen in my Grandma Shirley’s 1970s cookbook! Lebkuchen is a German gingerbread cookie, often made with candied orange peel, almonds, or walnuts. Over the centuries, it has become a tradition for lovers to exchange heart-shaped lebkuchen as an expression of their affection. I guess I’ll have to remember that for Valentine’s Day.
My family’s variation had nuts and a citrus glaze, and was absolutely delicious. Naturally, I had to try to make these tasty cookies too, with my own candied orange peel! The below recipe is what I came up with. Hope you enjoy!
For further reading:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup diced candied orange peel (to make your own, see step 1 below)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1) Candy the orange peel (unless using store bought)
- Score the skins of three naval oranges into quarters. Gently pull away the peel from the fruit, and cut peel into thin slices.
- Place sliced peels in a put and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Drain slices. Cover with cold water again in pot and repeat twice (this is to remove the sour taste).
- In a medium saucepan, add 1 ½ cups sugar and ¾ cups water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 8 minutes
- Add orange peel slices and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes, until the peels are translucent. Do not mix with spatula as this will remove sugar crystals.
- Pour peels onto a lined cookie sheet to cool for 4 hours. Dice about 1/3 for this recipe, save the rest to eat as is or chocolate-coat later!
2) Sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside in a large bowl.
3) Beat together brown sugar and egg. Add molasses, honey, and lemon juice.
4) Slowly add dry ingredients. Stir in candied orange peel.
5) Knead the dough on a floured surface for 2 minutes. Split dough into two balls and place in plastic wrap. Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
6) Roll dough on a well-floured surface, until it is ¼ thick. Cut into small rectangles or use a cookie cutter shape of your choice.
7) Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until cookies do no not leave imprint when pressed.
8) Make the glaze: Mix together powdered sugar, water, and lemon juice.
9) Drizzle glaze over cookies. Cool completely before storing in airtight containers (or just start eating them!)
*Tip: These cookies will be a bit crunchy after cooling. To keep them soft, store the cookies with a few extra pieces of candied ginger, or even a fresh apple slice.