Michaela Merz

Basler Läckerli (biscuits from Basel)

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I’ll bake. I’ll cook. If I have to.

I’ve never enjoyed backing or cooking. Whenever I was meant to cook for myself I just ate raw food.

My mother and grandma used to cook a lot and enjoyed it. I loved the pretty much meatless cuisine of my grandma. My mom’s cuisine, which nearly always included meat, didn’t belong to my favourites. During my childhood they used to say ‘you need to at least eat the meat’. But even back then I was ready to eat everything apart from the meat.

My mom and grandma loved to cook and did so on a daily basis, I was thus on grocery buying and cleaning duty. I honestly have to say that I avoided the kitchen and wasn’t interested in food as a kid. Being outdoors was the motto.

During puberty I wanted to make mother happy and as the whipped cream filled roll was one of her favourite sweet treats I decided to bake it for her. I bought all the ingredients and prepared the dough at home. Then I realised that we didn’t have any baking forms to shape the cookies. A classic planning error. I didn’t let myself get discouraged and thought about what I could use instead. I thought about my mom’s metal hair rollers. I got them, dipped them into boiling water to disinfect them and wrapped the dough without further ado around them. It worked and the cream rolls were unusually big but tasted ok. My mom however, wasn’t happy.

That is very disappointing if you work half a day and there is no positive reaction in the end. No wonder that I don’t enjoy cooking and backing.

I now received the offer to travel to Basel and bake ‘Läckerli’ biscuits. It is an ancient typically Swiss biscuit. Yes I thought, I would like to try it. There are quite a few ingredients – Honey, a bit of flour, almonds, candied fruits, cloves, cinnamon, Kirsch liqueur, baking powder. The dough is incredibly sticky and difficult to knead to get the consistency right. Certainly a good exercise for the hand muscles.

The leader told us the story of how the recipe came to Basel. Whether this is accurate I haven’t checked but the story is good and tells a lot about the Swiss imagination.

In the Middle Ages sugar and honey were expensive and only accessible to the rich. Biscuits were hard and not very palatable. But in Germany they had gingerbread which the Swiss liked. The Germans however didn’t want to share the recipe. So the two bakers from Basel travelled as ‘industry spies’ to Nuremberg to lift the secret of gingerbread making. In Nuremberg they weren’t successful for a long time until they had the idea to convince a young but experienced trainee to come to Basel to learn how the business in Basel works. Surely the trainee was skilled but he didn’t know everything and that’s why the ‘Läckerli’ taste different to the German Lebkuchen.

Perhaps the story isn’t true, but it is so good that it would be a shame not to pass it on. My ‘Läckerli’ turned out well by the way and they tasted good. But next time when I feel like eating ‘Läckerli’ I’ll buy them even if I now know how to bake them.

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