“The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
The best part about fantasy and science fiction writing is that the details don’t have to be tethered to reality – and nobody creates a more detailed world than J.R.R. Tolkien. As an avid student of mythology, language structures and etymology, Tolkien was adept at weaving these themes throughout his works, especially in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lembas bread, or waybread, is created by the elves of Middle Earth and used for long journeys because they will stay fresh for months. It is said that one small bite of lembas is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man. The bread is first mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring, which was published in 1954, so enthusiastic fans have had plenty of time to come up with a real-life recipe for this fictional food.
According to Tolkien’s texts, the recipe for lembas is a closely guarded secret of the elves, and is rarely shared. When the Fellowship of the Ring passes through the realm of Lothlórian on their way to Mordor, the lady Galadriel presents the group with a store of lembas to feed them on their journey. The bread sustains the travelers’ will, strength and life, and is intolerable to creatures of evil.
The idea for lembas bread was probably based on hardtack biscuits, a simple mixture of flour and water that was inexpensive to make and commonly used on long journeys in place of perishable foods. In Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, a plain shortbread was used on set. Unfortunately for the actors, the crew put a lot of effort into making sure the lembas looked and crumbled right on screen, rather than how it tasted.
This recipe is super easy and delicious! You will need an electric mixer to thoroughly blend the chilled butter and dry ingredients; at first I thought I made a mistake and didn’t add enough butter, but the transition into “fine granules” happens surprisingly quickly. After mixing all the ingredients, form the dough into a ball and chill it in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic to cool the butter before rolling it out.
If I had chilled the dough before cutting out the squares, I probably could have substituted cookie cutters in fun shapes. Some of the squares were a little thick, but they cooked just fine. I might play around with the mix of spices in the future too, but I will definitely be making these again. The lembas bread is a little dry, but perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. I brushed a tablespoon of honey on the squares right when they came out of the oven; the heat helps the honey melt into the top.
“The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf-wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The taste brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away. For a while they ate thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby.”
Chapter 3, The Two Towers.