This German gingerbread-type cookie is the smell and taste of Christmas for me. I’m not exactly certain how the tradition started, but my next-door neighbor Dave Ulmer would come over to our house for a pre-Christmas two-day affair of making about 24 dozen of these bad boys with my mom. It was a serious undertaking for which my mom owned a specially soldered rectangle cookie cutter and plastic dish bins for combining all the ingredients. The original recipe — dated 1936, from Dave’s mother, Anne — calls for approximately 11 cups of flour. I think this tradition came to our house because Dave’s wife, Mary, disliked the smell of anise, and because my parents were willing to take the closet doors off their hinges, lay them out flat, cover them with wax paper and use them as extra counter space in order to smear icing on each of the lebkuchen squares. At first, I resented that these were not the super-sweet, powdered-sugar-covered confections found at my friends’ homes (and I made sure that we never set these out for Santa, lest he be angry at us for leaving something that’s such an acquired taste), but after a few years, I came to love these molasses- and honey-filled gems. They freeze beautifully — I know this because once in a while, my brothers and I would find a dozen packed away in the freezer sometime in June and blissfully eat them all in one sitting. When I made this recipe — which I divided, so it makes about 2 dozen 3-inchby-3-inch squares — the smell was instant time-travel. I broke out Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” called my mom and we laughed about old times. Ingredients ¼ cup butter, melted 2 tablespoons white sugar 2 tablespoons brown sugar ½ cup molasses ½ cup honey ¼ cup water ½ teaspoon anise extract (the original recipe calls for anise oil — if you have that, just use about a quarter less because it’s stronger) ¼ teaspoon cinnamon k teaspoon nutmeg k teaspoon mace ½ teaspoon baking soda ½ cup chopped candied fruit ¼ cup chopped walnuts (other nuts works too) 2¾ cups flour
Lebkuchens are a German cookie Alison Borden learned to make from a neighbor.