Spices are the essence and character of any high-quality gingerbread; they are what distinguishes one producer’s recipe from another’s. So it goes without saying that here at Leckerlee, we take our spice blends very seriously. Our proprietary blends are the result of endless experimentation with different varieties and proportions. We work with Mr. Recipe – NYC’s renowned “spice guru to the chefs” – to source the absolute highest quality spice varietals for our products. All of the spices that we use are cryogenically (ie, cold) ground to preserve the volatile essential oils that give each spice its distinctive aroma and flavor.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in Jamaica during his voyage to the New World, allspice is known as “pimento” in Jamaica. Despite allspice’s name and flavor profile — the English coined it as such because it evoked the taste of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg — the spice is actually derived from a single berry of the Pimenta dioica tree.
Anise has a distinct licorice flavor. Anise comes from the crescent-shaped seeds of the anise plant, originally cultivated in the Mediterranean. The anise plant is a part of the same family of seed-producing plants as caraway, cumin, dill, and fennel.
Cardamom is a member of the family of ginger plants and has an assertive, unique taste that makes it one of the most expensive spices in the world. Intriguingly aromatic, the spice is obtained by grinding the inner seeds of the plant’s small pods.
Cinnamon is one of the most important spices in lebkuchen. Cinnamon comes from the brown inner bark of various species of the Cinnamomum tree. When dried, the bark curls into the tubular shape we recognize as the cinnamon stick, which is often ground for use in both sweet and savory recipes. Common areas of cultivation include Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. The cinnamon used most often in America is the Indonesian variety, but our cinnamon of choice, a Saigon cassia cinnamon, originates from Vietnam. It has a distinctive sweet and spicy flavor profile that lends a mysterious complexity to our lebkuchen. In addition to its flavor, cinnamon has also long been prized for its reported health benefits, including antimicrobial, antiviral, and blood sugar-regulating properties.
Citron is a citrus fruit valued primarily for its inner rind, which is candied for use in many traditional European holiday baked goods such as panettone, stollen, and of course, lebkuchen. Our candied citron is imported from Europe.
Cloves are the dried unopened flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. This tree was originally native to the former “Spice Islands”, a handful of tiny islands near Indonesia. Wars were fought for possession of these islands because of their prized nutmeg and clove trees. Today, cloves are also grown in Indonesia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, India, and Brazil. The harvest of these immature flower buds is done by hand, and the buds are sun dried for about a week, after which they acquire their characteristic dark brown color. Cloves are pungent and sweet, and have applications from baked goods to cigarettes.
The coriander plant is a member of the carrot family, and it yields both the spice coriander (from the seeds) and the herb cilantro (from the leaves). However, in spite of their common origin, coriander and cilantro have very different flavors. Coriander is pleasantly sweet and nutty, with a lemony top note, while cilantro has a strong, typically love-it-or-hate-it, grassy flavor.
Gingerbread is a bit of a misnomer in the sense that ginger is typically not the predominant spice used. However, this powder ground from dried gingerroot is one of the many spices that contribute to the overall taste of lebkuchen. Since ancient times, ginger has been sought after for its healing properties, particularly those related to stomach ailments.
Honey cake (Honigkuchen in German) was a precursor to gingerbread and remains an important ingredient in authentic lebkuchen (hence, our honey-stick-wielding bear mascot). We source our exceptional fallflower honey from Tremblay Apiaries at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Mace comes from the scarlet-colored outer shell of the nutmeg fruit, and is milder and more delicate than nutmeg.
Along with candied citron, candied orange peel lends a distinctive flavor to lebkuchen, providing the perfect complementary citrus note to the base of nuts and spices. Our candied orange peel is imported from Europe.
It may surprise some to discover that in many languages – pfefferkuchen in German, pepparkakor/piparkakut in Scandinavian languages, and piernik/perniki in Slavic languages, to name a few – the name for gingerbread is rooted in the word “pepper”, which was historically used as a generic term for spices. Small amounts of freshly ground pepper give a subtle kick to our lebkuchen.