#ThatTranslatorCanCook Week Nine: German Christmas Biscuits

Happy New Year! I know this is a little late, although we still are in the festive period (just!), but for this week, I decided to give myself an extra challenge and pick a German recipe: German Christmas Biscuits or Lebkuchen!

For a little bit of context: I studied German up to ‘A’ level (the final two years of secondary school for any international readers) and one of my new years resolutions for 2020 is to improve my German. I thought I’d give myself a little headstart by translating a German festivre recipe this week!

I first tried Lebkuchen or German Christmas Biscuits when I visited a German Christmas market in Köln (Cologne) with my secondary school in 2007 and have been in love with them ever since.

Sitting outside a very windy Christmas market in Köln, Germany.

My first issue was that the recipe just called for ‘Lebkuchen spices’. I assume that this must be readily available to buy in Germany, but as it’s not in England, I did some research and found this website that had a Lebkuchen spice mix recipe.

This recipe was generally more detailed than other French recipes I have translated, however there was still the age-old issue of ‘flour’ and ‘sugar’ being listed without specifying which type! This was an issue when I made croissants in Week Seven, but there was an image to help me work out which type was needed. In this recipe for German Christmas Biscuits, there was no such image so I had a google and looked at other recipes, such as this one, which suggested brown sugar. However, I feel that that would have been specified, as brown sugar is often ‘wetter’ than white and might change the consistency of the bake. In the end I opted for caster sugar, as this is a fairly standard ingredient for biscuits.

Rub the butter
I struggled with the word abbröseln. I couldn’t find it in my normal dictionary of choice (Leo), so I assumed it must be a technical baking term. Luckily, I managed to find it here, which looks like quite a useful resource if you regularly translate recipes from German!


Flour, wholemeal flour and lebkuchen spices

This recipe was pretty straightforward to follow. However, my first major issue was that I couldn’t find any rye flour in my local ASDA. I hopped onto my favourite referece tool, Google, again and discovered that some people suggested substituting half plain flour and half wholemeal bread flour if you can’t get rye. Whilst it doesn’t have the distinct rye taste, it does at least give a similar texture.

Dry and wet ingredients being mixed together in a glass bowl

The only downside to this recipe is that it required ‘leaving in a cool place’ overnight. So I made the dough the day before and then was ready to cut the shapes (with a mug, because I didn’t have a round cookie cutter!) and bake them.

Cooked lebkuchen (German Christmas Cookies) on a baking tray

As always, I did manage to forget a step – I didn’t egg wash the first batch. However, I don’t think this affected the flavour and as I smothered the finished biscuits in water icing or melted chocolate, it didn’t really affect the visual effect either.

Lebkuchen biscuits covered in water icing in a tin

Voilà! I was very pleased with the final result. I would note, however, that the recipe gave no indication of how many biscuits it would make and it made loads. In future, I would probably halve the amounts, because, although they keep for a long time, I’m not sure we’ll get through all of them!

Also, I was surprised to discover that these weren’t actually as sweet as shopbought lebkuchen I’ve eaten, despite the huge amount of sugar and honey. They were a little sweeter once ‘decorated’, but I would probably up the amount of sugar in the recipe to suit my tastes.

Next week I will probably be attempting a Belgian side dish that looks delicious!

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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