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I've been trying (and failing) for years to make good lebkuchen or printen. I am OK with the flavour, as I have a good recipe for the spice mix to use, but the 'biscuits' invariably turn out far too hard and brittle, nowhere near the sturdy but pliable, chewy stuff you buy. I wonder if anyone can help, please, e.g. by suggesting a good recipe or telling me what I'm doing wrong.

Some info about my past attempts.

  1. I know that commercial traditional lebkuchen contain no significant amount of fat, and no eggs. And I have in front of me a packet of printen that I bought in Aachen (Germany) a few months ago, and the ingredients are: wheat flour, glucose-fructose syrup, 'farinzucker' (a sort of soft brown sugar), 'Kruemel-kandiszucker' (crystallised candied sugar), spices, sodium bicarbonate, potato starch. Yet, whenever you look for recipes online, at least 90% of the time you find tons of butter and eggs thrown in. I don't want to make a flaming sablé or a cake, I want to make lebkuchen! :)

  2. over the years people gave me the most bizarre advice. Some told me I should bake the dough in a tray, so it retains its moisture, and cut it into squares afterwards. Yes, this may work, except for the fact that then I would have a spice cake. Like a Swiss leckerli. See above. Others said I should brush the biscuits straight out of the oven with sugar syrup, and then leave them to rest in a sealed box for several days. Which I did. They still turned out very hard. You often hear the 'apple slices' trick, too. Imprison the biscuits in a sealed box with apple slices to keep them company. You can read for yourself the horror stories of carnivorous alien molds and undiscovered toxic antibiotics that grew in those boxes, the biscuits all the while stubbornly retaining their original hardness.

  3. Further reading taught me that in order for the biscuits to become soft after baking, they should contain hygroscopic ingredients (stuff that catches moisture from the air). As far as I can tell, honey and its industrial cheaper substitute glucose-fructose syrup should do that. Some very soft lebkuchen I bought long ago contained apple puree. I read that sorbitol is responsible for that; then pureed dates or prunes should do the trick too. However, I never tried such tricks, because the commercial printen I mentioned above manage very well without. I need to understand what is wrong in my recipe or in how I store the biscuits.

  4. A biscuit they make in Southern Italy, which I have known and loved for years, turned out to be a lebkuchen in disguise. The dough is made with wheat flour, sugar, honey, chopped almonds, cocoa powder, baking powder, ground cloves, and coffee (not water, not milk, not eggs) to bind. The biscuits are baked in large (say 8-10 cm across), thick (say 0.7-1 cm) diamond shapes and then covered with either melted chocolate or a cocoa-sugar glaze. When freshly made (not after 100 years spent in a box with pieces of fruit next to them), they are very nice, soft but not cake-like; the structure inside is similar to what you see in British honeycomb. Whenever I tried to make them, despite my best endeavours they were so hard you could use them as hockey pucks. I tried underbaking them, hoping that they would harden less on cooling, but then they were raw in the middle, practically inedible.

  5. On a related note, there is another product I like, and would like to bake myself at home. It's a Dutch/Flemish thing they call 'ontbijtkoek', i.e. breakfast cake or something like that. Once again, the commercial version has nothing but flour (wheat + rye or sometimes just rye), glucose-fructose syrup, spices, baking powder (and water, I suppose - that's not mandatory to mention on the label). The cake is soft and a bit chewy, and tastes of cinnamon, perhaps cloves. All the recipes I found so far contain the usual suspects: eggs, butter, milk...

How, I wonder, are professional/industrial bakers able to use so few, simple ingredients and deliver such a variety of products (at least in this case), whereas we unlucky home cooks get dairy and eggs shoved down our throats at every possible occasion? By this logic, we'll end up making the same stuff over and over again, regardless of what we want to achieve, maybe with a marginally different proportion of fat or eggs to flour, or with the odd spice thrown in...

Any ideas?

Thanks

  • 1
    IIRC Printen are supposed to be stored to become edible - and the traditional ones are still pretty hard. Also, some softer german gingerbread varieties are essentially spice cakes, certainly as they are sold commercially these days (Pfeffernüsse, Oblatenlebkuchen... I think I've seen traditional recipe that are closer to british mincemeat than to these, though... ) - and yes, they are mostly eggless. Also: if a recipe calls for honey/molasses/inverted syrup, these somewhat interchange BUT do not substitute unadulterated white sugar! – rackandboneman Sep 17 '17 at 20:26
  • Thanks; then I guess I am not storing them in the right place, or my home is incredibly dry... They mentioned once on QI that the formal definition of 'cake' is a baked product that gets harder as it goes stale, as opposed to 'biscuits', which get softer when they go stale. So these lebkuchen and printen are more biscuits than cakes, but then the ones you mention aren't. I'm confused... To answer your point, no, I never used sugar instead of honey or syrups of various descriptions. If you have links to some of the recipes you mention, could you please share them? Tx – user6376297 Sep 18 '17 at 17:10
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The first thing to look at when sweets come out far more brittle than it ought to be is the sugar used. There is a reason syrups are used in the "professional" recipes - these syrups (honey, inverted*, probably some varieties of glucose-fructose, corn syrups, molasses...) will crystallize far less than table sugar, and for some related reason also keep the moisture in better.

*easy to make yourself. Make a heavy syrup and cook it at a few centigrade below boiling temperature with acid (eg juice of 1 lemon per kg of sugar seems to work well) for an hour or so (hint: shove pot in well calibrated oven!). Then boil it to desired consistency (I found going to 112-118 centigrade gives a nice hint of beginning caramelization). You can neutralize it with an edible alkali (baking soda, potash ... mind the dangers of foam and hot syrup!) or just take a note that your syrup is acidic :)

  • 1
    Thanks! Yes, I do always follow recipes and use the indicated sugars and syrups. So there's something else going wrong :( . And indeed, a few years ago I made my own invert sugar syrup. [I'm a chemist - I wasn't going to let some hot lemon juice deter me from trying that]. In fact, I often think it's easier to do chemistry than baking! In baking there are so many 'secrets', approximations, details left unspecified... I am still trying to make digestive biscuits like the ones you buy; I'm closer to that than to lebkuchen, but it was not a walk in the park; and I'm not 100% there yet. – user6376297 Sep 18 '17 at 17:18

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