Monday, April 25, 2011

To Feast Upon Lembas; An Attempt at Elvish Way-Bread

"I thought it was only a kind of cram, such as the Dale-men make for journey's in the wild." said the Dwarf. "So it is," they answered, "But we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts."
~ The Fellowship of the Ring

I must admit, I am a total geek when it comes to the Lord of the Rings. I love the movies, I adore the books and I really think my main interest in the SCA, and reenacting the medival period in general, is because I have such a strong fascination with Middle Earth. It's fantasy, not history, but it is actually more of a historical fantasy than anything, I think. It's not so fantastic as to be unbelieveable. I like that.

Reading about lembas this morning, and being quite hungry at the same time, I wondered if anyone, as geekified as myself, may have attempted to come up with a reasonable recipe for this way bread. I did a google search and lots of recipes popped up. A few looked somewhat reasonable but in the end, I decided to make up my own recipe based upon what I imagine lembas to be like and the descriptions given of the bread in the book.
"The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream." ~ The Fellowship of the Ring 

So based on the description, I wanted to come up with something that was thin, light brown on the outside, light in the middle and with a crisp crust. Gimli the Dwarf also described the lembas as being better than honey cakes.

So I thought to myself, what do I think of when I think of lembas? I think of the children of Israel and manna in the wilderness. I think of the taste of honey and butter. I think of a moist, crumbling crumb and a crispy brown, thin crust. Flat cakes, looking and feeling like hard tack. Of course, being a reenactor of the American 1860's era, I am very familiar with the flour-salt-and-water hard tack biscuits that were issued as journey food to the soldiers of the time. These biscuits could keep for months and years without changing much in appearance. In fact, there are still extant pieces of hard tack from this era that look just as edible and fresh as newly made hard tack.

A lot of the recipes I looked at included various spices, nuts and raisens and called for cooking the lembas on a griddle or stovetop. I wanted to have mine baked, as was described in the book. A lot of the recipes yielded a result that was quite heavy and scone like. I imagine lembas as more of a thickish cracker.

In the end, I made my own recipe. The finished result is almost what I was thinking of. The cakes did not turn out quite so crispy on the outside as I had imagined but I'm going to take a cracker trick and let the cakes sit in the oven overnight and hopefully, by tomorrow morning, they will be nice and crispy. Also, the inside of the cakes is a yellow-white color instead of being the "colour of cream". I attribute that to the yellow honey and butter in the cakes. Using white shortening and white sugar instead of butter and honey would probably yield a whiter cake. My lembas cakes have a crumbly texture, are flat with little leavening to, hopefully, boost their preservative qualties and are flavored subtly with butter, honey and a hint of lemon. They are definitely not what we think of as a modern "cake", soft and moist and loaded with sugar and eggs, but are sweeter, softer and definitely more palatable than plain hard tack. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible. So here is my take:

Elven Lembas:
Yield: 30 cakes appx. 1.5" x 2"

In a bowl combine
1 3/4 c. white flour
1 c. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

To above mixture, cut in
1/2 c. (one stick) of cold butter
til crumbly and moist

In a seperate bowl, combine
3/4 c. milk
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 c. honey
let sit for 10 minutes

Add milk/honey/lemon mixture to dry mixture. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 30 seconds or until dough holds together and is smooth. Divide in two. Be careful to not over knead the dough as too much handling will yield a stiff, chewy cake instead of a crumbly one.

Roll each half out to 1/4" thickness (no thicker) and with a sharp knife cut into cakes. I made mine appx. 1.5" x 2" but you can customize the size to whatever best suits your needs.

Place cakes on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time. Tops and bottoms of cakes should be golden brown.

A thank you to my own little hobbits who were willing to dress up in their medieval garb and munch lembas cakes outdoors on this misty, gray, wet afternoon. Malachi refused to wear his attire but the older boys were perfect for the parts of Frodo and Sam. Gotta get SOME use out of these outfits before they outgrow them! ;)



  1. Love it! I think I must try this out :-) Do let us know how the overnight crisping works. I guess I ought to make the kids some lovely medieval clothing so they can play the part;-)

    And your boys make adorable hobbits!

    Lots of love,

  2. Oh, Sarah! I'm so glad to hear that you are a LOTR fan too! Hahaha! Geek moment: I actual went to the premier of the first LOTR movie dressed as an Elf...
    ;0) Thanks for the Lembas recipe. I'm going to go try it right now!

    Oh, and my husband met someone at his work place a few months ago that is a member of the SCA. We are thinking about checking it out. My husband, so far, has humored me in regards to the Regency Era stuff...but he hasn't been super interested. On the other hand, the 'fighting' aspect of the SCA interests him. While that part doesn't interest me, I know that there are many other areas of interest that I could jump on board with. And if there's any area of reenacting that I can do 'as a family', well then, I'm all about that. :0)

  3. Loving the Lembas! My friends and I used to study elvish back in the day, haha.

    (Nice meeting you on FB- I have been super duper busy and haven't replied to your lovely messsage yet- :/)

  4. Sommer, thank you! I do think they make pretty cute little hobbits. They have been calling themselves "Frodo" and "Samwise" ever since yesterday afternoon. It reminds me of how my brothers and I used to play we were cowboys and Indians, or various characters from movies or books when we were little. Tons of fun with the imagination! Those were good times and now my boys are discovering imagination for themselves. It is very pleasing.

    The crisping process did work quite well (perhaps TOO well?) The cakes are now quite hard and crispy and do resemble hard tack closely, but with the honey-butter flavor and a bit more crumbly on the inside. I do think they would, if kept dry, keep for a very long time.

    It is hard to know what is "right" since there is, technically, nothing "real" to compare these to. Every recipe out there is someone's idea of what lembas should be like. Looking at my lembas now I am a bit disappointed since it's not extremely delicious or tasty like the scone-like lembas recipes appear to be, or the shortbread type of recipes, or poundcake type of recipes, or the ones with various nuts and dried fruits and spices. All we know for sure is that it tasted pleasant when compared to cram, what we suppose is something like the flour-salt-and-water hardtack of our own world. It LOOKS like hardtack as Gimli the Dwarf thought it was indeed that, until he bit into it (and when he did we found it was "crispy"). It is golden brown on the outside and white on the inside. (mine is not white on the inside).

    I'm thinking of experimenting again when the geek mood comes upon me. Maybe modifying a soda cracker recipe? Maybe omitting the butter or using far less for a more white interior?

    As it stands now, though, I am pretty confident that the lembas I made yesterday will keep just fine until our next SCA event. : )

    Jenni, that is so awesome you are looking into the SCA! How fun, and you are right, there are lots of areas of interest not related to fighting. The nice thing is that your husband can pursue his own interests and you can pursue yours, yet you can still be at the same event, with the same group and same people. My own husband is not that interested in fighting but is interested in archery and thrown weapons. There is a sewing and cooking guild in our group as well as people who portray brewing, herb lore, sewing, textile arts (like weaving or embroidery), scroll work, leather work, bardic arts, etc. There truly is something for everyone!

    And that is also so cool that you dressed as an elf for the premier of LOTR! Awesome!!! Do you have any photos?? : ) The baron of our group has the two trees as his own personal symbol; and he has told me there is at least one gentleman he knows of how dons elf ears before any of the SCA battles. It is nice to be among people who enjoy these sorts of things. : )

    Rebekah, I totally understand about busy! It's been a busy weekend for me too. . .it has indeed been very nice to meet you on facebook!

  5. Oh, I love your boys' outfits and the recipe! How fun to be able to "play" in another time period...even if it's partly fantasy-history... :)


  6. Sarah- Unfortunately, no, I don't have pictures. SOMEONE in the group took pictures...but it wasn't me. And back then..hhrmhm(clears through because this dates me) cameras were just becoming popular. Mine was still 35mm. So I don't think the pictures were saved to a computer or anything. I haven't a clue who it was that took pictures, or where they would be. I'll try to ask around facebook and see if anyone has any pictures of us all dressed up. I do know that there was a LOT of glitter paint on my face and in my hair....don't know why I thought elves wore glitter
    :0} Haha!

  7. I'm pleased to see your idea of lembas is very similar to mine, and that you're able to try to recreate it! I wouldn't be... but now I can - thanks! :-)

  8. This is so cool and indulges both my geekery and love of the Bible!

    Like you, I always associated the Elven bread with manna, especially since there are rabbinic descriptions of manna tasting like anything you want it to taste, similar to what Tolkien writes. Perhaps, if you wanted to echo the 'manna vibe', you could add some coriander seed. I am sure that would go nicely with the lemon and honey.

    I hope they tasted well and I am sure they would be lovely with a steaming mug of Elven-tea ;)

    This Good Life

  9. On rainy days when I am re-reading LOTR for the millionth time, I used to curl up with a cup of tea and some biscotti, pretending that the biscotti were lembas.:-) What a great memory.
    Now that I'm eating a "primal" diet (no grains or legumes, lots of good fat, meat, veggies) {And feeling so much better than I used to feel!} I can't have biscotti any more. I'll have to come up with a recipe using almond or coconut flour so I can much on Lembas again....

  10. This is so wonderful! I love that you tried to make the recipe a bit more accurate to the book's description rather than just what might be yummy (scones ARE delicious!). I really appreciate it and I will definitely try this! I have a big group that are planning on going to the Hobbit movie premier all dressed up this December and I think I'll pack a bag of LOTR food for snacks before the movies! hmmm... where to find some rabbit...?


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!