As another year draws to a close, I send to you my warmest, fondest wishes for a Merry Christmas full of blessings, joy, love and a bright and prosperous 2014!
This year I couldn’t think of a more fitting Christmas recipe to share than these Springerle cookies. Having an affinity for old recipes with a story, I was immediately drawn to Springerles when I accidentally stumbled upon them on the web. Of Bavarian origin, these dense, anise-flavored, biscuit-like cookies have been popular at Christmastime in the southern region of Germany since the 16th century. Those years ago the intricately-molded cookies were meant to depict scenes of daily life and mark certain events. Biblical scenes were more popular in the early centuries and made way for other motifs later. Models were made from clay or stone (later out of wood) and while there is no definite answer about the source of its name, one thought is that the word “Springerle” came about from the way the cookies rise or “spring” in the oven as they bake (the terms for jump in German are “sprung” or “springen”). Besides their history, I was drawn to Springerles by their beauty and have wanted to give them a try for years.
However, a bigger motivation for baking the Springerle cookies was to give my husband something from his childhood. After learning a little of their history, I wondered if my husband’s German mother ever baked them for him. He confirmed that Springerle cookies were indeed an annual tradition from his childhood, baked by his mother and grandmother, taught to them by his German baker grandfather. Presenting the cookies to my husband this Christmas was my way of somehow connecting with the in-laws that I never had the honor of getting to know (they passed away several years before I met my husband). Interestingly, my husband, who has never raved about his mother’s cooking, has been all praises when it comes to the Springerle cookies of his childhood.
“They’re thick and rise from the bottom. They’re dense and get hard over time…my mom’s cookies had anise seeds at the bottom…and after she baked them, she’d hide them because you couldn’t eat them for at least a week.”
My husband has even gone so far as to draw me a picture of what they should look like. So even though these cookies had been long forgotten, jogging his memory of them came with a bar set high for getting them right in my kitchen.
I bought a replica roller to imprint the cookie dough because that’s what my husband’s mother used. He remembers his mother’s antique wooden roller that belonged to his grandfather which, now with regret, he’s told me he had long ago given away. Individual molds are a more popular option for stamping the cookies but I have to say that I’m really happy with the way my roller worked out after I got the hang of using it…and for my husband’s positive reaction to the cookies once he tasted them.
“These are very close to my mom’s,” he said. And I let him have a taste right after they had cooled from the oven instead of making him wait a week like his mother did. According to my husband (and experts on the web) these cookies get better over time so it’s a good thing this batch makes about 60 cookies because I’ve set aside the bulk of them to test this claim. Right out of the oven I liked their subtle anise flavor and dense texture and three days later I must admit that so far the claim is proving true. I have a feeling that Springerle cookies will become a Christmas tradition in my family, too. Next time I’ll roll the dough out on a layer of anise seeds just like my husband’s mother did when he was a child.
* You can buy the Springerle molds or the rolling pin at House on the Hill. Please click here.
- ½ teaspoon baker’s ammonia (Hartshorn) or baking powder
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 6 large eggs, room temperature
- 6 cups powdered sugar (1½ pounds)
- ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon of anise extract
- 2 lb. box sifted cake flour (Swansdown or Softasilk)
- more flour as needed (I used an additional cup or so)
- Dissolve the hartshorn (or baking powder) in the milk and set aside.
- Beat the eggs using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until thick and lemon-colored. I used Speeds 4 and 6 and it took about 8 minutes (though the original recipe says 10-20).
- Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the softened butter. Add the hartshorn and milk, salt and anise extract.
- Remove the whisk attachment and replace it with the flat mixer attachment and gradually beat in the cake flour. My mixer started to struggle after adding 1½ pounds of the flour but I was able to add all 2 pounds. If you think your mixer won’t be able to handle all two pounds, stir the rest of the flour in, as suggested in the original recipe. You should have a somewhat stiff and sticky dough. Take half of the dough from the mixer bowl and turn it onto a generously floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking. I ended up adding around an additional ½ – ⅔ cup of additional cake flour.
- For imprinting and drying cookies: roll out the dough using a rolling pin until it is about ⅜ inch thick. If you’re using a roller to stamp the cookies, try to roll the dough into a rectangle. If using individual molds, round would work. You will be able to re-roll the dough scraps and stamp shapes onto it until it’s all gone.
- Using a rolling pin mold, after rolling out the dough into a rectangle, carefully roll the pin over the dough, putting medium pressure as you roll. You want the image to be clearly stamped on the dough for them to hold up to the rising process as they bake. It may take a couple of tries until you are satisfied that you have a strong enough imprint. You can always re-roll the dough and start over until you get it right.
- Once you have the imprints on the dough, use a pastry/pizza cutter to cut the individual shapes and set them on parchment-lined baking sheets.
- You will need to rest the cookies for 12-24 hours before baking them to allow for them to dry out and for the top surface to harden.
- After the cookies have rested, bake them one sheet at a time on the middle rack of your oven at 300℉. Ovens and the size of the cookies will vary baking time but for me, the baking time averaged 15-18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container. Ideally, these cookies should be eaten at least a few days or up to a month later. They improve over time.
- See notes below for additional tips.
* Prep time does not include rest time. It is advisable that you wait at least overnight before you bake the imprinted dough.
* Traditioinally, these cookies are baked well in advance before being eaten, about a week to a month.