Sunday, 16 March 2014

Elvish eats: Lembas bread!

Due to popular demand (having nerdy friends) today I present a discussion and recipe for Lembas!

Lembas, also known as Waybread, is one of the few foodstuffs continually mentioned throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Series, and several fans like myself take great joy in attempting to recreate it and bring a small part of Tolkien's magical world to life.

It is the ultimate travelling food - portable, lightweight, with a long shelf-life... It seems that Tolkien may have taken inspiration from military life. Lembas seem to be his fantasy interpretation of Sea Biscuits: "a type of unleavened bread which was baked, sliced and oven dried. [...] used for centuries as rations for sailors. In good conditions it would keep for a year or more in sealed barrels, but at sea it was often difficult to keep it dry, and it could become infested by weevils." (718) While it is documented by food historians that sea biscuits were one of the few long-life food products available during the time of use (16th - 19th centuries), it is also well-documented that they were bland and required softening prior to eating so as not to break one's teeth. The ingredients for Ship's Biscuits, taken from a  recipe provided by the Royal Naval Museum, are as follows:

  • Wholemeal flour
  • Salt
  • Water

While Tolkien's adventurers, not unlike the sailors of years gone by, are on a long and arduous quest, they inhabit a world of magic, and with magic come Elves. Though Peter Jackson's film adaptations refer to it as Lembas bread (which I found somewhat misleading while researching content for this post), Lembas is not far from the description of Ship's Biscuits above. The most notable exception to this of course, is that Lembas are delicious.

"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. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at with with a doubtful eye.
'Cram,' he said under his breath, as he broke off a crisp corner and nibbled at it, His expression quickly changed, and he ate all the rest of the cake with relish. 
'Eat a little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many, many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings.'" (481-482)

In short, Lembas are to be long lasting, filling, and sweet. This taken into account, Lembas are less like Ship's Biscuits and more like shortbread; with their high fat content, robust form and sweet flavour. The following recipe is my own.

Elvish Lembas


  • 150g caster sugar
  • 300g cold salted butter*
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC
  2. Measure the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Chop the butter into small cubes and put in with the sugar. Cream together with a wooden spoon or electric mixer, until a pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. Sift in 1/3 of the flour into the butter mixture and mix. When it is just combined, add the next 1/3 of flour. Repeat until all flour is added and you have a stiff dough.
  5. Shape into a ball and leave to rest in a fridge for 15 minutes.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1cm thickness. With a knife, cut into even squares and place on a lined baking sheet. Score an 'X' across each square.
  7. Chill in the fridge for another 10 minutes.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a light golden brown.
Store in an airtight container (or leaf wrappings, if you have those to hand).
*If using unsalted butter, add a small pinch of salt in with the flour.

  • (1999) 'Ship's Biscuit', The Oxford Companion to Food ed. Alan Davidson Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Royal Naval Museum Library (2000) 'Ship's Biscuits: the Sailor's Diet', Research. Web:
  • J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. London: HarperCollins (2007)
  • Image courtesy of Lord of the Rings Wikia:


  1. I really like your link between Ship's Biscuit and Lembas here. I've always found it really interesting that although Tolkien is very much rooted in the Fantasy genre there is so much in his writing that is easy to link back to the world we live in.

    And now I really want to try your recipe for Lembas - it sounds great.

  2. Thanks Holly! Lembas was actually really interesting to research, when I first thought of devising a recipe for it - partly because in the films it is known as lembas bread - I imagined it to be a kind of sweet leavened bread, like a flatbread. However, when it came to looking in depth at the nutritional and practical qualities of it, it ended up linking back to ship's biscuits.

    Hopefully I'll be able to bring some in on Thursday's class. :)