Lebkuchen is the German compound for overkill. Or overload. Or it should be. (sigh) Actually, it translates to gingerbread. (Incidentally, so does Pfefferkuchen, another appellation for these sweet spicy treats.) While Lebkuchen the word has been around since the early 15th century, Lebkuchen the sweets have a much older history. This version of the recipe is laden with finely chopped candied citron, candied orange peel and toasted almonds, and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ground anise, and fresh lemon and orange zest. And they are frosted. And topped with a bit of candied cherry. Pow. Or, more appropriately: Thud.
A specialty of Nuremberg, Lebkuchen are spicy favorites in Germany. Sharon Tyler Herbst states that they are the center of arguments over whether they should contain ginger (huh? gingerbread should not contain ginger?), whether they should be hard or soft, and whether honey should be their only sweetener. In this recipe honey is joined with dark brown sugar. I chose to keep them soft by using the shorter baking period. And an emphatic Yes! to the ginger question. Ms. Herbst knowingly adds to the controversy by giving a choice of glazes: almond or chocolate. If you are making the full cookie recipe, make both versions of the glaze. There are so many cookies, if you are planning to frost them all you will need more glaze than one version provides for fully coating the bars. They can be stored for a couple of months at room temperature in an airtight container.
As for teasing apart the etymology of Lebkuchen, I did not spend a lot of time looking for answers. Kuchen is cake or cakes. Leb comes from the verb leben which means live. Alive cakes, then. Or lively cakes. They certainly are lively in flavor. My brief perusal of what are no doubt secondary if not tertiary sources — all of which most likely blithely reference one another without notation — give various origin stories for the Leb bit of the word, such as, the Latin libum for cake (really? cake cakes?), or the Old German lebbe for sweet or very sweet, but I remain unconvinced. Also, I may have lost interest. I’m sticking with lively cakes.
An aside: I have, at last count, ten recipes to go before I am done with Ms. Herbst’s The Joy of Cookies. Two at least involve meringue (groan) so I cannot say with certainty that I will be done by the end of the year. I can say that my next themed series for this blog may have something to do with tracking weight loss…