Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Lebkuchen


Some families have traditions of some kind. Okay, so many families have traditions. Alright, alright... most families have traditions.

Many family traditions are associated with a holiday. And, gee, it just so happens that Christmas is a holiday. And, wow, would you believe it, Christmas is just around the corner.

Enter, Christmas traditions.

One of my family's Christmas traditions is Lebkuchen.

Lebkuchen is a traditional German spice cookie. My maternal grandpa loved his mother's original, brought-over-on-the-boat German Lebkuchen. When my grandma married my grandpa, he asked her to make some. But my grandma didn't like my grandpa's mother's Lebkuchen.

What is it with mothers-in-law? Oh, let's not go there.

Anyways, my grandma set about to find one that suited her and made Grandpa happy. She found one.

This is it.

And this has been made in my family for as long as I can remember and even before that. But only at Christmas time. It was always a Christmas cookie. I've never seen it, had it, or even thought of it any other time of year. This is a Christmas tradition.

Now, I'm making it gluten-free. And it is delicious as ever. Even the gluten-eaters don't find anything different about them.

I see no reason why traditions can't continue, just without the gluten.

Gluten-Free Lebkuchen

This is a direct adaptation of my grandma's Lebkuchen that she made for years and years for my grandpa and the rest of the family. This is a tradition in our family. She made it with regular, wheat flour. Now, I make it with gluten-free flours. The taste is indistinguishable from the original. And that's not just me saying so. That is Grandma saying so!

I think I'm the only one still making it in our family. Unfortunately. Grandma is still doing great at 91 years old, but I think her Christmas cookie-making machine is put to rest. For good.

But in the mean time, she has taught me a few tricks to use with this recipe. Hang on, we'll get there. Stay with me.

My kids might end up being the only ones to carry on this tradition. I hope they do. I fully intend to hand down the original, gluten-laden recipe to them both. They can then make it as they wish. If they want the gluten-free version, they are certainly welcome to it.

That's all the better for me!

Gluten-Free Lebkuchen

3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup oat flour
2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup candied mixed fruit, finely chopped
1 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped


1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Deco balls for decorating

Here is the candied fruit after I sent it through the meat grinder attachment on my wonderful KitchenAid stand mixer.

Don't worry. It was clean. No meat in the grinder. Nothing mixed with the candied fruit, besides mixed candied fruit. Trust me. 

Just candied fruit. Ground, instead of finely chopped. Grandma did it this way, and so do I. That's Trick #1. Use the meat grinder to "chop" the candied fruit. You won't be sorry.

I mixed all of the flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, and spices together using my stand mixer. Then I stirred in the ground candied fruit and chopped nuts. Next, I added the dark corn syrup, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, and the egg. Beat and mix well.

Next is preparing the cookie sheet. You need one with a rim, since we are going to fill it from edge to edge. Butter and flour it, in that order and using gluten-free flour. I used white rice flour and I probably needed a couple of tablespoons of it to get all the butter covered.

Hint: Be absolutely sure to butter every itsy, bitsy, teensy, weensy bit of that pan, especially the corners and up the sides of the cookie sheet. Then, when you shake gluten-free flour over the butter, be sure to cover every bit of the butter. Every bit. You'll thank me later.

That's Trick #2.

If you don't thank me later, it is because you missed a spot and your one giant Lebkuchen cookie stuck to your pan and you tried to pry it out and it tore and it became more than one giant cookie, more like several, smaller, random, torn cookies.

But we'll get to that in a bit.

Now that you've gotten your pan completely covered in butter and flour, it is time to get it all in the pan.

And here comes Trick #3.

This cookie dough/batter/stickiness is so sticky, you can't just smooth it around the pan. You have to work it. Work it to smooth it out with hand dipped in water.

That's right. Hand dipped in water. Trick #3.

Repeatedly, between each smoothing, dip your fingers in a glass of water. Then gently pat and push the dough to flatten and move it all the way to the edges and corners. The water keeps the dough from sticking to your hand.

And the more dough that sticks to your hand, the less dough you have for baked Lebkuchen. Don't let that happen.

Don't worry if the top surface of your dough starts to look a tiny bit watery. That will evaporate right off in the oven. Just don't let it become soupy.

Once the dough is evenly smoothed all the way to the furthest reaches of your pan, bake it at 375º for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Use caution here, since the dough is already light brown. Just watch the edges. When they look cooked and not darker than the rest of the pan, it is probably done.

While your sheet of Lebkuchen is baking, make the icing. Just mix the melted butter, lemon juice, and powered sugar in a bowl, working to remove the lumps and make it smooth. Add a bit of water, a teaspoon at a time, to get a thin spreading consistency. I make mine so that it will run easily off of a spoon or knife. I use a kitchen brush to "paint" the icing on when the time is right.

That time is coming soon. Very soon.

Here it is baked and hot.

As soon as I pulled it out of the oven, I started icing it. Yes, now!

Yes, you guessed it. Trick #4. Ice it hot. Immediately.

And you need to work quickly.

You want to ice and immediately sprinkle the deco balls before the icing dries on the hot cookie, so that the deco balls will stick. The icing dries within a minute or two of brushing it on, so you have to ice a little bit, sprinkle a little bit, ice a bit more, sprinkle a bit more... you get the idea.

Here it is hot, iced and decorated. I like my icing thin, so that it melts into the top of the cookie and disappears. Invisible, but not without flavor. It's there. Trust me. It's there.

But it is still only one, big cookie. I think this is a problem. I might keep the whole thing for myself.

Let it cool completely before trying to get it out of the pan or cutting it. To make many cookies. Because that is the reasonable thing to do.

I use a table knife to gently cut down the vertical sides of the pan to separate that big cookie from the pan. Then I carefully slide the knife under the cookie, and very carefully, pry it up from the pan. If I did Trick #2 just right, that whole, big, glorious cookie will come out of the pan in one piece. If it doesn't come up nicely and you feel resistance, stop, move the knife around the outside and try from another angle. Keep prying, gently, moving around the pan.

Once the whole, huge cookie is out of the pan, carefully, ever so carefully, slide it onto a large cutting board. Arm yourself with a large chef's knife. Not serrated. You don't want to saw through this cookie. You need to cut straight down through it. Put your weight into it.

My grandmother always cut squares first, each 2 or 3 inches wide, and then cut the squares diagonally in half.

Surprise, surprise, now they are triangles!

You'll want to share. But you can't. Not yet.

And you can't taste them yourself. Not yet. Not now.

You and everyone else needs to wait. And this is the hardest part. And this is Trick #5.

Package these beautiful triangles up in an airtight container and leave them there for a minimum of two weeks.

Two weeks. That's right. This will require will power and planning ahead, if you want to have some of these to eat on Christmas morning.

Tsk, tsk! No tasting now. You'll be sorry. They won't taste right. Don't worry, they aren't bad. But they aren't right either. You need to wait.

They need time to develop their lovely, spicy, meldedness. The flavors need time to come together. And when they do, it is so worth it!

I made mine with just enough wait time for them to ready on Christmas Day. I still haven't tasted one. Honest.

And I've just mailed off most of them. I expect them to arrive just in time and with just the right amount of waiting already done!

Best of all, our Lebkuchen tradition is now gluten-free! I've never had anyone say these taste any different than the gluten ones. Hurray!

Our Lubkuchen tradition is here to stay... gluten-free, that is!

Happy Tradition-Keeping!

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