When I started looking into German cookies–specifically ginger cookies–I discovered that an essential ingredient is actually 8-10 ingredients in one–Lebkuchengewürz, a German spice mix. Literally: sweet-cake-spice. That lovely long German name in the logical German language way refers to the spice that goes into Elisenlebkuchen–the premier spiced cookies or Lebkuchen–gingerbread cookies.
Yes, of course you can merely BUY the German spice mix. But where’s the fun in that? And don’t you want your whole house to smell like Christmas? The aroma from these spices is worth the mixing. And the flavor and aroma are rather addicting. Once you have this spice mix on hand, you’ll find lots of uses for it. I suggest some along with the recipe, but I must say that I am enjoying a bit in my green tea in the morning to the point where I may have to make another batch before I get around to baking Lebkuchen cookies.
Although, as I confessed on Facebook recently, I am a spiceaholic, I had never used star anise, and decided to buy some. You can see how pretty it is in the picture below.
But it is, believe it or not–a flower. Before the flower dries up and becomes the spice, it looks like this.
The best known use for it is in Chinese 5-spice powder. I’ve made Chinese 5-spice powder, but I cheated and used ground anise seeds instead of star anise. What I have read indicates that the pods and the seeds of the star anise have flavor, and the seeds are stronger in flavor than normal ground anise seeds. It is difficult to grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle–which is what I have–but you can always sit and watch TV while you smash away at the star anise. Or you can use an electric spice grinder. Or you can do what most of us do and just use anise seeds which are much easier to grind.
By the way, now that I have star anise, I’ll throw a pod or two in the next soup or stew I make–trying to remember to remove it before I serve the food. It should be delicious in any beef dish, and a wow with ham or pork.
More about star anise, and every other spice you can think of.
So, before we start serious Christmas baking (it starts right after Thanksgiving), here’s the recipe for the German spice mix you can’t live without.