As a child there was one food I was afraid of, The Lep Cookie. This Boonville Missouri and Farris family favorite sat in jars all around town “ripening” for months before being consumed at Christmas. The idea that a cookie got better the longer it aged did not tempt my refrigerator /expiration date trained taste buds (plus it was filled with raisins, walnuts and no chocolate). The Lep cookie isn’t just a legend in our family, but a Christmas cookie tray staple and a topic of discussion every holiday for many families in mid-Missouri.
Where do these flat dark brown cookies come from?
According to a 1974 article in the Boonville newspaper, the “Lebukuchen” became a popular cookie in mid-Missouri due to the scarcity of sugar. Brought to Boonville by german immigrants in the 1800’s, the Lebukuchen, was soon americanized to the German Honey Bar, The Lepp or Lep cookie. This cookie was traditionally exchanged by neighbors and served when anyone dropped by. Though there are many different local recipes all involve the same basic ingredients: flour, nuts, fruits, and sorghum molasses. The nuts are key. There are a lot of nut trees in area, so essentially they were a free ingredient for baking. These cookies were prepared around nut harvesting time, November, and eaten at Christmas.
The Lep cookie is so ingrained in the town’s culture that at the local hospital huge quantities were often baked and decorated like greeting cards for the patients and in 1928 each new Christmas infant took one home.
Now the question is, when did my family start making them?
One fall afternoon, Linda and I found my great grandmother’s recipe for Lep cookies. It was buried under magazine recipes and several different newspaper versions of Lep cookies. My grandmother was about to toss it out!
I have groaned about the Lep cookie for years, but to be totally honest, I ended up loving the that cookie after I baked it myself. I learned that, yes, it’s true you must let them chill before handling the dough or it will turn into a sticky tar mess. But it’s really tasty, kind of like a granola bar or fruit cake without the candied fruit. I ate them with tea like my mother’s side of the family. And frankly, I am forcing myself to wait until frosty afternoon in February to eat the rest. This is one cookie that is more a part of my DNA then I ever thought possible.
Because they keep forever, all Lep cookie recipes bake a ton.
Here is a condensed recipe:
8 oz or 1 cup sorghum molasses or dark molasses
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lard or Crisco
1 pint or 2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 Tablespoon of each: clove, ginger, nutmeg, all spice
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
1 cup of chopped mixed nuts ( I used pecans and walnuts)
1 cup of mixed fruit (I used raisins and dried cranberries)
Pinch of salt
Heat molasses, lard and sugar and let cool.
Add baking soda to milk, then add all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
Mix together until a wet dough forms.
Pour ingredients onto a sheet of wax paper. Use your hands to shape the dough into rolls. You won’t use your hands too long, the dough is very sticky. Once you have a log shape going, wrap the wax paper around the sides of the dough and use it to roll the dough into shape. I cut my dough into two rolls.
Wrap the wax paper around the dough and chill. Chilling can be over night or you can freeze it and bake it much later.
Slice and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes.
To ripen them: Store in an air tight container (like a stone jar or plastic container) at room temperature for a month or freeze them (icing and all) and eat them until next year.
Lep cookies are served frosted and unfrosted. I choose to make a Browned Butter Frosting for mine. Here’s that recipe, but feel free to use any frosting you like!
Browned Butter Frosting (from Better Homes and Gardens)
In a small saucepan heat 1/2 cup butter over low heat till melted. Continue heating till butter turns a delicate brown. Remove from heat; pour into small bowl. Add 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low-speed till combined. Beat on medium high-speed, adding additional milk if needed to reach spreading consistency.