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.
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! :)
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.
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.
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.
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...