It’s Christmas time and the end of the year once again. We don’t celebrate Christmas but I usually bake a selection of cookies at this time. They make perfect gifts to share with family and friends. Basler Läckerli/ Leckerli is a traditional spiced chewy fruit and nut bar/ biscuit native to Swiss locality of Basel, close to Germany. Läckerli roughly translates from German as delicious or a treat.
Basler Läckerli is made from flour, honey, chopped nuts, candied citrus peel, dried fruit, a bunch of spices and cherry brandy called Kirsch. The resulting dough is baked as a tray bake, brushed with a sugar glaze while still hot, and cut into rectangular pieces.
It is said that Läckerli was invented to serve church dignitaries who attended the Basel Council (1431 to 1449). One account says otherwise as the required ingredients were supposedly unavailable in 15th century Basel. The first mention of a Swiss Läckerli recipe is in the 1621 handbook of one Abraham Schneuwly of Bern.
What is special about Läckerli from Basel? I’m honestly not sure, but I will tell you that it is something very good. First, these bars are best eaten the day after they’re made, even a week after. The spice flavours develop fully and the bars soften a bit with time. They keep for a more than a month if stored properly. The thin and dry crystallize sugar layer just adds to the overall flavour.
The recipe below is adapted from the numerous recipes I saw on the internet. Most of these are egg free like mine. This tray bake is very easy to make. Mix all the ingredients to a slightly cookie dough like consistency. Using damp or lightly oiled palms and fingers, press the dough out into a parchment lined baking tray. Bake till golden brown but do not over bake. This tray baked confection doesn’t rise much.
Brush a sugar glaze over the top while it is still quite hot. The glaze will dry out when cool. It is important to cut the baked dough into rectangular (or square) pieces while still warm. It is difficult to do once it has cooled.
For the Dough :
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3/4 cup chopped almonds
- 1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
- 1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
- 3 tsp freshly grated orange zest
- 50 gm unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup apple juice
For the Sugar Glaze:
- 2/3 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp water
- Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 12 –inch rimmed baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
- Lightly whisk together in a large bowl, the flour, chopped almonds, candied peels, fresh zest, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, cloves, and nutmeg.
- In a small sauce pan warm together over medium heat, the butter, honey and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple juice.
- Pour the hot butter- honey mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir together with a wooden spoon to mix well. The mixture will be thick and sticky, much like cookie dough.
- Scrape the dough onto the prepared baking sheet and press out with a spatula. Dampen your palm and fingers with water and spread the dough out to fit the tray. Also smoothen the top of the dough. Neatly dock the top of the dough with the tines of a fork. Work quickly while the dough is still warm. It becomes difficult to work with cooled down dough. Let the dough rest for an hour or two.
- Bake the dough at 220C (425F) for 15 to 20 minutes till firm and the top is golden brown.
- In the meantime, make the glaze by mixing together the icing sugar, water and lemon juice till smooth and thick. Brush this glaze generously and evenly on the surface of the baked dough.
- Holding the edge of the parchment paper, slide the baked dough from the hot pan onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife. Remove the edges (if necessary) and then cut into small rectangular or square bars while the slab is still warm. IT will be difficult to cut once cooled.
- Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. These bars are best at least a day to a week after baking when bars soften a bit and the flavour of the spices comes through well. They will keep well for over a month if stored well. If they do dry out a bit, add a couple apple wedges to the sealed container (swapping out for fresh ones weekly) to re-soften the cookies.