We love these soft and spiced gingerbread cookies. These German inspired vegan Lebkuchen have a warming flavour and are easy to make!
What is lebkuchen?
Lebkuchen is a type of German sweet baked treat that comes in many forms. It can be a type of cake or cookie and they are many traditional variations of lebkuchen.
Recipes vary widely, but one of the most characteristic features of lebkuchen is the taste of the spices known as Lebkuchengewürz.
This spice mix is typically made up of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, star anise and a few other spices. This spice mix is what gives lebkuchen and gingerbread their typical flavour.
If you are familiar with the German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, you can imagine the witch’s edible house made of lebkuchen.
Some types of traditional lebkuchen are quite dense and chewy. But our recipe makes wonderfully soft gingerbread cookies! We can’t get enough of them…
What does lebkuchen mean in English?
The closest translation for lebkuchen, would be gingerbread, but it may be different from the kind of gingerbread you are familiar with.
If you tried to translate it directly, you would end up with life (leb) and cake (kuchen). But the origin of the word is uncertain, with the leb part of the word possibly deriving from the Latin, libum, meaning a type of flat cake, or from the Germanic word Laib, which means loaf.
Because it typically uses honey as a sweetener, lebkuchen is not normally vegan. Recipes may also include eggs or butter. But as this vegan lebkuchen recipe proves, it’s simple to make them without the use of any animal products - and they’re so yummy too!
In spirit with traditional recipes, we’ve tried to keep the recipe simple and use easy to get ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Flour - plain ( all-purpose)
- Gingerbread spices - we make our own, it’s easy!
- Cocoa powder - Just a bit of it deepens the colour and adds a richness to the taste.
- Baking powder - To get that soft and cakey cookie texture.
- Brown sugar - We like dark brown sugar for the richest colour and taste, but light brown will also work fine.
- Maple syrup - in place of traditionally used honey. For even deeper, better flavour!
- Oil - Choose a neutral tasting oil such as canola or sunflower oil.
- Soy milk - A bit of liquid to bring it together.
Depending on how you would like to finish your lebkuchen you’ll also want:
- Some vegan dark chocolate.
- Or some vegan powdered sugar or icing sugar to mix with lemon juice.
Step by step
Here's a visual overview of how to make vegan lebkuchen - you'll find the full recipe in the card below.
Step 1 - In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar and gingerbread spices.
Step 2 - In a jug, combine the oil, soy milk and maple syrup.
Step 3 - Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix into dough.
The mix will be crumbly at first, but should come together with some work. If it’s still too dry to form into a dough, you can add some extra soy milk. But only add it a teaspoonful at a time as it can quickly become sticky if you add too much liquid.
Step 4 - On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to ¼ inch (6mm). Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. The scrap dough can be rolled out again until all dough is used up.
Alternatively you can make 1 inch / 2.5cm balls and then flatten them with the palm of your hand.
Step 5 - Transfer to a lined baking tray and brush with soy milk.
Step 6 - Bake at 180C / 350F for 8 minutes. They should have risen and look cooked, but still be soft. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Step 7 - For lemon-glazed lebkuchen, combine icing sugar and lemon juice into a smooth glaze and dip in the cookies, or brush on. Leave to set.
Step 8 - For chocolate coating, use a fork to dip the cookies in tempered melted chocolate (detailed instructions in the recipe card!). Let drip off and leave to set.
How to make filled lebkuchen
One of the ways we like to vary this recipe is to make filled lebkuchen - like the heart shaped you can buy.
You can use jam or marzipan, or like we do, a mixture of both as a filling.
- Use the same recipe as below for the dough, but roll it out to half the thickness.
- Cut out your shapes, then place a teaspoonful of filling onto the centre of half of your shapes.
- Next, place one of the remaining pieces of cut out dough, on top of one of the pieces covered with jam.
- Gently press down to merge the edges of the two dough layers. It can help to wet the edge of the bottom layer first.
- Bake the filled lebkuchen in the same way as plain ones.
- We think the filled gingerbreads are best when also covered in chocolate!
How to store lebkuchen
Our vegan lebkuchen cookies are meant to be soft. If left out, they will naturally harden over time.
Don’t store lebkuchen in the same container as other types of cookies, as the different moisture levels of cookies can lead to soft cookies becoming hard, and hard cookies becoming soft.
Keep lebkuchen in an airtight container, and add a small piece of bread to the container. The moisture in the bread will help to keep the lebkuchen soft. You can also use a slice of apple, but change it occasionally and don’t let it directly touch the cookies.
Which of these variations is your favourite style of lebkuchen? The lemon glazed, the chocolate covered or the jam-filled? Let us know in the comments below!
Vegan Lebkuchen Cookies
For lemon glazed lebkuchen:
- 1 cup (125 g) icing sugar
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
For chocolate coated lebkuchen:
- 7 oz (200 g) dark chocolate
- In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the dough: flour, sugar, baking powder, gingerbread spices, and cocoa powder.
- In a jug, stir together the wet ingredients: Soy milk, maple syrup, oil. The oil will always float on top, but that's ok.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix to make a firm dough.TIP 1: Try and resist any urge to add extra soy milk at first. With a bit too much liquid the dough can suddenly become very sticky and difficult to work with!TIP 2: Start mixing with a spoon or silicone spatula until the dry ingredients are evenly incorporated. Then bring the dough together by kneading with your hands.
Shaping & baking
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- On a lightly flour-dusted work surface, roll out the lebkuchen dough into sheet ¼ inch (6mm) thick. (For filled lebkuchen, see notes.)
- Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes and transfer them to a lined baking sheet. Gather any left dough and roll out again for more cookies.
- Alternatively you can just shape bits of dough into 1 inch (2.5cm) balls and gently press to flatten them on the lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 8 minutes. The lebkuchen should have risen a bit and look cooked, but still have a soft texture.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool. For lemon icing or chocolate coating, see below.
- Storing: Once completely cooled, store in an airtight tin or tub to keep soft. You can find more tips on storing and keeping the lebkuchen fresh in the post above!
- Combine the icing sugar with the lemon juice. You can adjust the quantity of lemon juice for desired consistency.
- Dip the top side of the cookies into the icing, and leave to set for a few hours or overnight.
- Chop or break the chocolate into bits.
- Melt half the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. The bowl shouldn't touch the water.
- Leave the bowl on the pan but take it off the heat, and slowly stir in the remaining chocolate until completely melted. This is quick method of 'tempering' the chocolate and yields better results than just melting all the chocolate.
- With a fork stuck into the cookies' bottom side, dip their top sides and edges into the melted chocolate. Set down on a lined tray and leave to let the chocolate set.
For the quantity of dough above (about 25 cookies) you'll need: - 4 tbsp of jam
- 2 tbsp marzipan
- Stir to combine the jam and the marzipan until very smooth. A short blast in the microwave or heating up the jam in a saucepan can help with this!
- Roll out the dough out thinner than for plain cookies, about ⅛ inch (3mm) and cut shapes using a cookie cutter.
- Use your finger or a pastry brush to moisten the edges of one shape with water or soy milk. This helps stick the cookies together, and doing this before placing the filling means you don't have to work your way around it!
- Place about half a teaspoon of filling in the center of the shape, place another shape on top and seal the edges by pressing down with your finger.
- Bake as above, in a preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) for 8 minutes.
- Leave to cool, then coat with chocolate using the instructions above.