Monday, December 20, 2010

The holidays are often full of traditions.

When I was little, I remember my brother and I were allowed to open one small gift each on Christmas Day morning. Still wearing our pajamas, we greedily tore into the wrapping paper to see what Santa had delivered to us overnight. Later on that day, we would attend the annual Christmas service at our hometown church. When we returned home, we opened the rest of our gifts and listened to Christmas songs on my parents’ old record player.

Christmas 1982 - My brother, John, and me at home in Nebraska.

Over the years as we both grew up and I moved around a lot, this tradition waned. We no longer believed in Santa. We didn’t live in the same state anymore. My family basically celebrated Christmas whenever we could get together in December.

However, the one thing that has remained is Christmas baking. My mom and I used to bake dozens and dozens of cookies together. A few times when I was home from college, I tried to select at least 12 recipes to make and a baking frenzy would ensue over several days.

There is one recipe that we make every year – Grandma’s Lebkuchen Bars.

This dense, seasonal bar pays homage to my German heritage. It’s full of anisette flavor and tastes like black licorice. 

As soon as I smell the bars baking, it reminds me of Christmases past and my long-gone Grandma. Even my dad wandered into the kitchen while I was baking the bars and said it smelled like Christmas. Yes, this is what traditions are all about.

If you are reading this in Turkey, you probably will enjoy this recipe too because the flavor is similar to that of Raki, the country’s popular anise-flavored liqueur. (If you'd like me to convert the recipe to grams, please send me an email at

Even if I don’t live in the same country as my family, baking Grandma’s bars is one holiday tradition I always plan to carry on no matter where I live.

Afiyet Olsun!

Grandma’s Lebkuchen Bars

2          c.         dark molasses
1          c.         brown sugar
1          c.         buttermilk
3          T.         unsalted butter

3          c.         All-purpose flour
2          tsp.      baking soda
2          tsp.      ground cinnamon
1          tsp.      ground cloves
Pinch               salt
1          tsp.      Anise oil or extract (add more to your liking which is what I usually do.)
2          ea.        eggs, slightly beaten

Optional:         pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (I usually add this, but it was not listed in Grandma’s original recipe.)
As needed       powdered sugar

1. Lightly pan-spray a half-sheet baking tray (13”x18”) lined with parchment paper. (I used a 9x13 metal baking pan this time and the bars took about twice as long to bake.)
2. In a large metal or glass mixing bowl, add the molasses, brown sugar, buttermilk and butter. Heat the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the sugar is slightly dissolved.
3. In a second bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture and stir well.
5. Then add the eggs and anise oil, stirring until the batter is thoroughly combined. (At this point, I like to taste the batter to see if the anisette flavor is strong enough. I usually add a few more drops anyway.)
6. Spread the batter evenly onto the sheet tray. Place the tray in the refrigerator to set overnight.
7. On the next morning, preheat the oven to 325F/160C. Bake the bars for 15 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Let the bars cool until you can cut them. Then place several cut bars and a good amount of powdered sugar in a plastic container with a lid and shake together.  The bars need to be covered with the powdered sugar shortly before you plan to serve them because the sugar will “melt” into the bars over time.

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Jason said...

So, will there be a second batch in PA??

Joy said...

Does someone want me to make a special batch?