Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lembas - Elvish Waybread: a real-world recipe

Here's a recipe I put together for Lembas bread. Didn't know I could bake, did you? Well, I can, and I'm pretty durned good at it when I want to be.

Note: Okay, this isn't exactly directly related to OD&D, but we all know that there is a relationship between OD&D and Middle Earth, and this makes for a good holiday treat, or a nice, filling and fairly healthy snack at the gaming table.

Here's how it came about: we were doing a Lord of the Rings marathon at my buddy Mike's house when the RotK extended edition came out. Mike has a 42" widescreen and a really kick ass surround sound system, so we got together at 9:00 AM on Saturday and watched all twelve-plus hours of the epic trilogy back to back. It was awesome.

Anyway, I wanted to contribute something so I started searching for recipes for Lembas bread. My efforts that year were futile, but flash forward to last Christmas. I got the hankering to try again, so I looked up some recipes online. This time I was successful in finding a bunch, but was wildly unhappy with the vast majority of them. It seemed stupid to me that everyone puts orange peel or citrus fruit into Lembas, when elves lived in a temperate climate in England.

So I set about to make my own, based on what we know of Lembas bread. Here's what Tolkien says about Lembas:

  • They contain honey
  • they are cream-colored on the inside with a light brown outer crust
  • they are thin and regular-shaped (mine are rectangular).
  • they are hearty and healthy. One cake is supposedly enough to sustain a man for a full day's march.
  • They contain the "fruit of the Mallorn Tree" - a fictional plant from Middle Earth, but the "fruit" is described as a nut with a silver shale.
Some other things we can guess, just based on what Lembas is: It is likely it contains fruit and flower-water or juice of some sort. Since elves live in a temperate climate, apples or berries, perhaps strawberries or blueberries, are a good bet. The type of fruit used will change the flavor of the bread. I am going with apples due to the fact that Tolkien says Lembas is golden on the outside and cream-colored inside; berries would color the bread dark inside, while apples will not have this effect.

In addition, Lembas should contain some kind of finely ground light-colored nut for protein (recall that the "fruit of the Mallorn tree" is actually a nut with a silver shale). I use walnuts, but peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, or even chestnuts would work well, too. Some have described the Mallorn fruit as being similar to acorns, though due to the dangers of consuming improperly prepared acorns, this isn't recommended for us mortals.

It's likely that nourishing flour, such as whole grain, would be used. I use half wheat flower and half white. My original attempt used all wheat flour but resulted in a very heavy, very dry cake. Using pastry flour for the wheat portion also makes for a lighter cake.

A final note: the addition of vanilla and cinnamon to my recipe was originally done to help offset the somewhat floury flavor of the final cake, and it worked out brilliantly. However, as an added bonus, there are in fact health benefits to both vanilla and cinnamon, so they fit in well with the overall recipe! It is, however, unfortunate that cinnamon and vanilla are both tropical plants, so their inclusion does remove the recipe somewhat from the realm of probable accuracy.  I'd be interested in hearing any suggestions for replacing these two spices with some that are indigenous to Europe in the U.K. region, which would work well with a sweeter bread such as this. 

So without further ado, here it is: my recipe for Lembas. I am constantly tweaking this recipe; this is the most recent version and I am transcribing it here having just pulled a batch out of the oven not ten minutes ago. The final consistency of these is somewhere between a bread and a cookie, not unlike a shortbread.

1 3/4 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 3/4 cups of white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons cold butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon (optional)*
1 Tablespoon vanilla (optional)*
1/3 cup honey
3/4 cup milk
1/2 fresh, peeled, finely-chopped apple
1/4 cup nuts (walnuts, pistachios, peanuts)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Chop butter into mixture with a pastry cutter or knead in with your fingers until you get a crumbly mixture.

4. Add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla (optional), honey, apple, and nuts, and mix.

5. Add milk. Stir with a fork or knead with hands until dough forms.

6. Roll the dough out about 1/2 inch thick.

7. Cut out 2-3 inch squares and transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet. Criss-cross each square from corner to corner with a knife.

8. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until set and lightly golden. Makes 20 to 25 cakes.

* Foregoing cinnamon and vanilla may result in a floury taste to the final cake. 


  1. I found your recipe while searching online and it's similar to the one I used as a base before. (ie, before I lost my printed and scribbled on copy.) I too substituted whole wheat flour for half the flour, but also was able to throw in some rice flour and almond flour to further tip the scale away from the white. I also experimented with spices particularly cardamom to get an exotic, otherworldly scent to it. I'm looking forward to trying it with apple now. The citrus never bothered me since elves seemed to be remarkably green-thumbed and able to grow things easily. A greenhouse garden or even valley would not be impossible given their other accomplishments.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hm. Good catch. Using some corn flour would solve that issue neatly.

    3. The original lembas recipe is ancient, dating back to before Elves settled in Undying Lands or Blessed Realm which makes greenhouse garden fruits even less likely ingredients imho. I believe apples are most probable given their ties to Europe and European mythologies, namely Celtic and Norse.
      "It is said by the Eldar that the art of preparing the Lembas came from the Vala Yavanna as far back to the Elves Great Journey to Aman, when she brought to them a special corn grown on her fields there" lotr wikia

  2. (No idea if you're still reading comments on this...) A friend directed me here after telling me about this recipe. I was wondering, have you ever tried grinding up nuts and using those as part of the flour? A lot of European desserts use almond flour as a base, and that would help contribute to a more tender consistency, too. Oat flour might be a good bet as well. Both nuts and oats are easily ground up in a cheap coffee grinder, I've got one at home that can't do jack for coffee beans but works wonders on everything else. I'll try this out soon, thanks for putting up the recipe!

  3. I haven't actually ground nuts into the flour. I have in my last attempt added cinnamon, which goes a long way towards helping it hold moisture and cutting any floury flavor. I use 1 Tbsp of cinnamon in the mix.

  4. Thank you I've been searching for a more sustaining recipe and I like these ideas. It made me think also perhaps you could use a nut flour such as almond flour(although I doubt almonds would be the right type of nut but you get my point). If it's said that one bite could sustain a man for a day them it must be extremely heavy and protein/fat dense I would imagine. Can't wait to try it out!

    1. The use of nut flour might be really good. I expect you'd need to add a bit more baking soda or another leavening agent as nut flour would be a lot heavier then normal white flour. My own thought is that it should be protein dense, have a fair amount of carbs, but not necessarily a great deal of actual fat.

    2. If you soak raw almonds overnight (in the fridge) this will change the fat to protein content/ratio. They will also begin to form a sprout on the inner sides of the almond. You'll see the tiny sprout once you separate the almond halves. Be sure to peel the skins from your almonds before grinding.

  5. I've been having some trouble with the bread. I was wondering if you know whether or not gluten-free flour would effect the way the bread bakes and if I need to let it bake longer due to the difference in flour.

    1. Honestly, I don't know. I'm FAR from a professional baker; I'm a dabbler at best! I know that when I used whole wheat flour originally it made the dough extremely heavy and dry. My guess is gluten-free flour might have a similar effect?

      But enter my wife, the baker, to the rescue! When using gluten-free flour you need to add a leavening agent. Here's an article on it:

  6. I've been watching (and listening, I like audio books) to "The Hobbit" and LOTR again and I love to hike. Walking through the deep woods listing to LOTR is COOL!

    Anyway it seemed that there ought to be a good recipe for Lembas out there and this one looks like it should work. I look forward to trying it out and munching on some of these cakes on the trail.

  7. Hello love. I have a few comments regarding your bread:

    1. I know you're not an almond fan, but you could try almond extract or almonds in the bread or flour. They are not technically native to England but they can grow there.
    2. Dried apricots would also be nom for a different twist. Drying the fruit first would add an interesting consistency in general. Again, not native, but can be grown there.
    3. I was a little surprised by how high you set the temp to bake, I usually bake at 350 or 375, tops.
    4. Sour cream is an awesome ingredient for moist, delicious baking goodness. Even a little can add a lot of moisture. So is applesauce. Omnomnom.

    Love you!
    ~Yer wife

  8. Hello,
    Thanks for this recipe idea.Yours is the first lembas recipe that is trying to be a waybread- Elvish energy bar. I too went back and read Tolkien's description and am thinking of trying to make an almond and fruit filled cookie/thin cake I may try adding oatflour and maybe amaranth or another seed to add nutritional value.

  9. I just made a dozen from this recipe, but it rather turned out like some soft tasty cookies instead of some bread like consistent? is that normal? well might have improvised with eye measure at some of the ingredient since i didn´t have all the things i needed for baking.

    1. They should be more like a cross between a cake and a shortbread. They're not a "bread" per se. As Rosanna said above, they should be more like an "Elvish energy bar." They tend to be heavier and crumblier than bread. They've got an almost cookie-like consistency but rise like bread does.

  10. I wonder if perhaps you might consider Cattail Flour made from the pollen of the Cattails?


    1. I am unfamiliar with cattail flour. I'll look into it.

  11. Going completely off the ranch (Ala cinnamon) here are some other thoughts...

    Cardamom seeds instead of or along with nuts...first commentator is onto something there!

    When I do regular bread with whole wheat flour, for each cup of flour, I add 1 TBSP of vital wheat gluten. If you did this with 100% whole wheat, I bet you'd have better success.

    Olive oil instead of butter?

    If you measure and pour out the oil first, use the same measuring cup moments later for the honey. If you do (and don't rinse or wash the 1/3 cup), all of the honey it will slide right out.

    Raw sugar instead of brown sugar? Possibly slightly less sweet due to no molasses.

    Sour cream works as someone said does yogurt. Might be a bit creamier than milk.

  12. It seems odd to me, that you object to vanilla and cinnamon, but not brown sugar, since sugar cane grows in the tropics. I think that substituting this for maple syrup would help add some of the flavor you're looking for, while also working toward authenticity. For native spices, you could try anise, mint, or sweet cicely.

    1. An equivalent substance to brown sugar can be found in England--a sweetener could be distilled from fructose gathered from indigenous fruit, and molasses added from grapes or sugar beets. It's moot that it's not generally made that way in the modern era. The simple fact is that is is indeed a POSSIBLE addition based on what can be naturally found in Great Britain.