Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lebkuchen Bars, Speculaas and SinterKlaas - Pink Saturday



December 6th is a special day for the children of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. It marks the feast of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicolas, a man remembered for his generosity and love for children and the poor. On the eve of his feast day, the shoes of children are set out for him to fill with candy and other small gifts. Legend has it that Sinterklaas carries with him a book of sins. The shoes of those who have been good are filled with treats, while those of transgressors are filled with twigs. Special cookies are usually served as part of this celebration. They are called speculaas. There are actually two types of this spice cookie. One is soft and chewy, the other is crisp and formed in special embossed molds. Both taste like mild gingerbread. I couldn't let the feast of Sinterklaas pass without making speculaas. I've chosen to make the softer version. The word speculaas comes from the Latin word for mirror. The cookies can be rolled and cut to mirror any shape and that probably explains their name. Speculaas, and their cousins lebkuchen, are wonderful holiday treats and it really is lovely to have them on hand for guests and special Christmas activities.

One of my earliest holiday memories is decorating the Christmas tree. Most of the work fell to my father, but when he deemed the tree ready each child, there were three of us, would be given a box of tinsel and allowed to put it on the tree. Even with extended arms, we never made it higher than four feet up the tree. The bulk of the tinsel was on the lower limbs, probably in clumps, because we were anxious to complete the job. The one who finished first got to put the angel on top the Christmas tree and we, even at that tender age, were a competitive bunch. There were of course cookies and eggnog to heal the wounded spirits of those not qualifying for the special honor. I hope you've had the opportunity to try really good lebkuchen and speculaas. If not, I hope you'll try these recipes. These cookies age well if stored in airtight containers.

...from One Perfect Bite courtesy of Joy of Baking

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour/meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
1 cup sliced or shaved almonds

1) Whisk flour, almond meal, baking powder, spices and salt together in a bowl. Set aside. Set aside.
2) Combine butter and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer. Cream until light and fluffy. Add egg and lemon zest and beat until well combined. Add flour mixture and beat until combined. Form dough into a round, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
3) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Move rack to middle of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
4) Remove dough from refrigerator and form into 1 inch (2.54 cm) balls. Place balls of dough on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Then, using bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten each ball of dough to 1/4 inch thick (can also use a cookie stamp). Sprinkle each cookie with shaved almonds. Bake for about 10 - 12 minutes, or until lightly browned at edges. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Lebkuchen Bars...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite Courtesy of Tish Boyle

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into 3 pieces
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sliced unblanched almonds
1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Orange-Ginger Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, butter is melted and mixture just begins to boil. Remove pan from heat; let cool for 15 minutes.
2) Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and ginger together in a large bowl. Set aside.
3) Stir almonds, candied orange peel, egg, orange juice, orange zest and vanilla and almond extracts into cooled honey mixture. Add dry ingredients and stir until well-blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of dough. Cover pan with another piece of plastic wrap. Let dough sit at room temperature overnight.
4) Position a rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.
5) Place dough in prepared pan and spread it in an even layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
6) Meanwhile, make glaze: Whisk confectioners' sugar, orange juice, ginger and vanilla together in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
7) Remove bars from oven. Place on a wire rack. Spread the glaze over warm bars. Let cool completely before cutting. When cool cut into bars. Yield: 24 bars.

This post is being linked to:
Pink Saturday, sponsored by Beverly at How Sweet the Sound


Elena said...

Lovely childhood memories and it's so nice to celebrate the feast of SinterKlass & the traditions that go with it - it's lovely to read these stories. I think it's going to take me most of the week to get through as many as I can. Thank you for sharing yours.

Have a fabulous week Mary.

ciao for now,
Elena :)

surfingtheworldcuisine said...

Those Lebkuchen Bars look so great!!! I'm really into spicy cakes recently, so looking forward to tasting it!!!

Carol at Serendipity said...

Just plain delicious looking. I will do some baking next week - not too much because you know who eats it all!!!

Happy Pink Saturday!


♥Mimi♥ said...

On this first Saturday of December ♥Jappy Pink Saturday♥. I was away for a while and sure missed running around the blogs arnd seeing all of the goodies everyone was sharing.

Thanks for the memory...

It was a blessing for you to make my morning so much fun. Hoping that you and those you care about spend a wonderful weekend making memories that will last a lifetime☺

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Mary, leave it to you to make the most beautiful Lebkuchen I've ever seen.

Thanks for sharing your childhood memories of Christmas. I was never very good at tinsel either; always in a hurry. I felt like I was standing there right beside you saying, "let's see who can finish first."

Happy Pink Saturday. Sharing our childhood Christmas has been so much fun.

Martha said...

Mary-- being German we always had German cookies at Christmas -- lebkuchen, those S cookies and springerle. But I also like the speculaas and have made them as well. Love the memories your post brings back!

Cathy said...

Warm out of the oven lebkuchen is my favorite cookie. I can't wait to try your recipes and serve them with gluhwein. Now that's Christmas!

George Gaston said...

Mary, My shoes are out on the doorstep waiting for a few of your incredible treats. Both are absolutely wonderful, as is your story of old St. Nicolas. Oh, how I wish our present day holiday was observed with such a simple generous tradition. Many thanks, I can't wait to try these delectable treats.

Mollye said...

Hi Mary Thanks for sharing your special memories and also for giving us these wonderful treats without us having to go and search for something. Peace, Mollye

Claudia said...

These are the best cookies ever - all of them. We used to leave treats in our kids shoes on the night of December 5th. Sweet memories... maybe St. Nicholas will visit my husband's shoes tonight...

Foley said...

Your photos are perfection!
Don't know if I would want my cookies put in my
Brought back memories of placing tinsel on our tree growing up..major rule was one at a time!

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

Wonderful stories... I am asking for wood for christmas for smoking (pecan wood is so expensive), so getting pecan twigs would not be a problem...

AND a BTW, I made your recipe for Raspberry coffee cake that you posted a link to yesterday. Just a small twist and it came out GREAT. will be posting this soon.

Katy ~ said...

Just wonderful and warm holiday memories, Mary. Thank you for sharing them, and thank you for sharing these wonderful recipes that are a part of your memories.

Barbara said...

Such fun to share old Christmas memories. Thanks!
The lebkuchen bars look divine.

Soma said...

I had made the speculaas last year right before christmas.. fell in love with them. So beautiful.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Mary, these cookies sound wonderful, and I loved hearing your stories. I know that Germans had the first Christmas trees, and they also have some of the most beautiful ornaments.

I'm laughing about the clumps of tinsil. We always wanted to put the tinsil on, but Daddy made sure that we only put one piece on at a time. When he wasn't watching, he sent his lieutinant (sp) who happened to be my mother. ;-)

Thanks for always sharing such a wealth of knowledge and information with us. I love reading what you write as much as looking at the recipes and the delicious food you make.

Happy Pink Saturday!


Sheila :-)

Karen said...

We always used to throw the tinsel on too... no patience! My Momdid everything she could to get us to hang one piece at a time, but it never worked. This lebkuchen looks and sounds so delicious!

CC said...

As always Mary, I enjoyed your story as I enjoyed your recipes. You see, I love and collect cookbooks and read them as others read a novel..and I so love and enjoy your blog. I'm a follower and I look forward each time to seeing a new post of yours..I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy them.. Happy Pinks..have a lovely weekend.

NKP said...

For a minutes I thought it said Leprechaun Bars!
These are my kind of cookies, not too sweet and nicely spicy.

The Cooking Photographer said...

Your German cookies make me so happy Mary. I've been saving every single one.



Unknown said...

I loved that you shared one of the Christmas memories with us and two WONDERFUL!!! recipe to go with it.

Bobbi Jo Nichols said...

Mary Happy Pink Saturday! I am trying to lose body fat and I think I just gained some looking at this wonderful food and reading the recipes. Love them they sound delicious. Hugs, Bobbi Jot

Dawn said...

I think your Dad had the right idea! The job would surely get done very fast at our house! HPS!

Joyce said...

Traditions & Memories are the best. I rember putting the tinsel on the tree each year. Wish they sold that now as I always liked how it looked when the tree lights were on at night. Great recipes and the photos are wonderful.

Betty said...

What a fun holiday memory! We celebrated Sinterklass when I lived in Germany. Your story brought back memories for me. I'll have to make your cookies and see if I remember them.
Happy Pink Saturday!

Betty said...

I just got the strangest error message so I'll just say Happy Pink Saturday and tell you that I am going to try your recipe for the cookies. Hopefully this hasn't posted twice. eek!

Claudia said...

My mouth is watering at the sight of those cookies! I must try the recipes. I love your Christmas stories - about SinterKlaas and about decorating your Christmas tree. Thanks so much for sharing them with us! Happy Pink Saturday!

Deb said...

What fabulous recipes you have here! Thank you for sharing ♥

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I love desserts with lot's of spices. Looks delicious.

Chef E said...

Dear Santa,

Could bring me my own personal baker for Christmas, so I can wake up to goodies like this each day.

I promise I have been a good girl...

Little Miss'E

caren said...

Your treats were jumping off the page at me! Oh, if I could have only had a bite. Looks and sounds delish!
Thanks for sharing the stories of St. Nicolas.

We too decorated with that silver tinsel. The only thing is my Mom wouldn't let us put it on the way you did (even though I always wanted to). We had to put it on one by one!

Happy Pink Saturday!

Arlene Delloro said...

What gorgeous cookies! I've had lebkuchen, but never a lebkuchen bar. I wish SinterKlaas would leave me some in my stocking. I've tried to be very, very good. I'm making a copy of the recipe, though, just in case...

Jenny said...

I remember making stollen every year when my grandmother was alive. Didn't like eating it, but making it...hehehe!!

Selba said...

My mom just baked lebkuchen last week :) I love eating lebkuchen because it always brings back my childhood memory when I was living in Germany.

Speculaas is one of her favorite cookies but usually she buys it at import stores.

Every Christmas, we will celebrate it with stollen...

noble pig said...

Those are great memories, even if you didn't get to place the angel!!

Kathy said...

Incredible recipes, Mary. And I love the name of your blog. As my husband watches me enjoy my salad he always comments that I am searching for "that one perfect bite"!

Merry Christmas,

suesueb said...

Unfortunately for my waistline I love all the cookies of Christmas and these look so tasty!! I loved tinsel too and remember decorating the tree with it when I was young. Thanks for sharing the memory and the recipes! Happy pink week!!

Betzie said...

Yum! Interesting reading too, thanks Mary!!! HPS!

Zurin said...

That was a very entertaining story. and those bites just look yum!:))

Char said...

I love to hear how little ones put tinsel on the tree, one stand at a time is just not going to happen. I think your cookie recipes this week are going to become traditions, Happy Pink Saturday, Char

Anonymous said...

I have so got to make some of those for christmas thanks for sharing hope you have a fab week can't wait to see what other recipes you come up with over the next couple of weeks:)

Sandi@ Rose Chintz Cottage said...

Hi Mary,
Having a wonderful time reading the Christmas stories. I made Lebkuchen one year but since my kids were not big fans of nuts, I never made them again. But Hubby and I sure enjoyed them! Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful week.


GwendolynKay said...

I am on that never ending diet. oy.. so I won't be tasting these treats.... maybe for Christmas? I enjoyed your memory... and I can imagine a tree with clumps of tinsel around the bottom and a lovely angel on top. I bet you kids were all angles too:)

Grace said...

It is so great to visit you, I truly enjoyed your story. I visited so many beautiful blogs and enjoying reading everyones memories. Thanks for sharing your love of food with us. Have a great week. Grace

Dogmom Diva said...

Hi Mary, all I can say is YUM YUM YUM..I am going try one or ALL of your recipes this year..YUM again!
Thanks for visiting my memory. I always like to say we did not have Norman Rockwell holiday. ever. But they were OUR holidays and still fond memories!
Have a great week! Barb

Dogmom Diva said...

Gee, Mary, all I can say is YUM YUM YUM. I think I am going to have to try one or all of your recipes this year. YUM!

Thanks for visiting my memory. I always like to say we did not have Norman Rockwell holiday. ever. But they were OUR holidays and still fond memories!
Have a great week! Barb

Suzie Button said...

What a great memory and wow, the cookies look wonderful as does that meatball sub above! It's hard to visit you and still stay on my weight watcher diet, I get hungry instantly! Happy late Pink Saturday! Suzie

free online adventure games said...

Thanks for providing the recipe for the softer version! Just prefer it to crisp ones. With Christmas coming soon, this would be a great treat to make, along with the story.

Liesl said...

I remember hearing those stories as a kid. My background is very German and my mother taught in Germany for several years. She brought many traditions back with her and shared them with us kids in the years to come. One of my favorites was eating the Lebkuchen! It was so delicious! I am actually getting ready to go to Germany for Christmas this year and looking very forward to some authentic German Lebkuchen!

Mary Bergfeld said...

Liesl, a hearty welcome to One Perfect Bite. I hope you'll visit often. Have a wonderful holiday. Germany is a great place to be for Christmas. I'm envious.

Jeanie said...

These both sound fabulous -- I love ginger anything any time of year, but you're right -- the holidays make it a must! Thanks for including the story, too!

Beverly said...

Happy Pink Saturday, Mary. I am still out visiting everyone.

You posts gave me vision of little cuties decorating the tree. My mother always had cookies for us to enjoy when we were decorating, too.

We once had a neighbor that baked lebkuchen bars, and they were divine.

My Little Space said...

Such a lovely story and it's good to have such celebration specially for the children. And these cookies and bars look absolutely delicious. Saving it up too! Thanks.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

great looking cookies. Someone from Belgium gave me a gift of a jar of speculaas paste. Do you have any recipes for that?

Mary Bergfeld said...

Linda, it's my understanding that it is a spread that can be used in the same way as apple butter or jam. I've never seen it in markets here in the U.S.

Unknown said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Poppi said...

At what point does the egg go into the Lebkuchen recipe?? I think you forgot to add this one to the method....

Mary Bergfeld said...

Poppi, I've corrected my omission. The egg goes in at the same time as the orange zest and juice. Thanks for pointing out my error. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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