Lekerli – German-Swiss Honey-Spice cookies from Basel
Basler Lekerli (or Läkerli) are glazed rectangular or diamond-shaped spice cookies that my family love around Christmas. The cookies are tedious and tricky to make, and thus are particularly special for the holiday. It has become a tradition with us, though not because of any Swiss background. The cookies keep for weeks, and improve in both flavor and texture with storage.
Lekerli are the German-Swiss counterpart, developed in Basel, to the originally Bavarian Nuremberg honey-spice cookie, Lebkuchen. Both date back about seven centuries. I found the recipe in a small Swiss cookie cookbook at the book store at World Health Organization in Geneva, where I was doing a work project in the mid-1980s. The book, fortunately, was the French translation, which I can read, of an originally German language regional cookbook, which I could not have read. With some adaptations that I made to the recipe for our local conditions and preferences, it became a favorite, which I baked nearly annually for decades.
When we moved to Athens from Atlanta, the recipe, typed on a single page of paper, disappeared in transit. My wife, Christina, tracked down a copy through a complex communication and locating an old friend of hers who, she recalled, had liked our cookies and photocopied the recipe. Our new copy is a printout of the pfg-transmitted copy of our original, which Sylvie had photocopied. Having just made the Lekerli as a project with several of my grandchildren, I’m now getting it on my recipe blog to keep it accessible.
Mix together in a large bowl:
3 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
2 teaspoons ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
In a separate bowl:
2 1/2 cups chopped almonds (with skins)
6 tablespoons candied orange rind, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons candied lemon rind, coarsely chopped
Grated rind (zest) of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons orange juice
In a large pan, bring to a boil:
3/4 cup honey (strong flavored, such as wildflower honey)
3/4 cup sugar
Once the mixture has boiled, remove pan from the heat and stir in the almond mixture. Then transfer this all to the bowl with the flour mixture and combine using a strong wooden paddle. This can be difficult. The dry mixture can be kneaded with the hands once it is cool enough to touch.
Place one half of the dough (broken up and scattered) on the bottom side of a greased cookie sheet or greased parchment (not waxed paper) on the cookie sheet bottom. Roll the dough 1/4 inch or thinner, using a waxed paper sheet on top of the dough or lightly dusting dough with flour while rolling. Cut off ragged edges and fill in any gaps so as to get a large rectangle of dough.
Repeat for the other half of the dough.
Bake in a 315-degree oven until golden brown, 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven. While still hot, run the edge of a sharp knife underneath the edges of the dough to separate it from the parchment or the pan.
For each sheet of cookies, make the glaze (recipe below). This can be done separately for each sheet of dough, or together (glaze recipe doubled) once you’ve done this a time or two. When glaze is cooked, quickly paint the top of the still-hot baked dough (stick it back in the oven for a minute or so if needed) evenly with glaze using a pastry brush. The glaze will get cloudy and look like icy snow.
Using a sharp knife, cut the still-warm cookies into diamonds (1 1/2-inch wide lengthwise strips then 1-inch wide strips on a diagonal) or cut crosswise into rectangles 1 1/2 inches by 2 inches. Allow cookies to cool thoroughly. Lift them off the pan or parchment with a sharp spatula. Let them dry for a little while. Store in tightly covered tins,
Let ripen for at least a week for best flavor and texture.
GLAZE for each half of the dough:
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
Boil in a pan without stirring (but gently swirl the pan occasionally) until the syrup first begins to spin a thread when a little is dripped from a spoon. Do not overcook. Brush quickly on a baked sheet of Lekerli.