23 Dec Springerle Cookies
Springerle cookies. They taste like Christmas memories.
With every bite, I am taken back to a purer time, given fleeting glimpses into the holidays of my childhood. The cold, stark white winters of South Bend, Indiana. Long walks around the lake on the Notre Dame campus, feeding the ducks, waving to “Touchdown Jesus” and visiting The Grotto to light candles and celebrate silently in the solace of the warm golden glow.
Snowball fights in my grandparents’ backyard — me in my pink puffy coat, hiding behind the old oak that stood tall in the middle of the yard, careful not to knock over the St. Francis statue with my clunky, foreign-feeling-to-a-Texas-kid snow boots, cheeks flushed with the thrill of the hunt, waiting for the perfect moment to jump out and hit my opponent square in the chest.
Sitting on the wooden bench in my Grandma’s kitchen, eating copious amounts of her homemade turkey soup — more than was comfortable at times, but I ate it anyway, if for no other reason than to please her. My grandfather, sitting downstairs in the basement, perched in his favorite green chair, his bald head covered in a fuzzy fleece cap patterned with snowmen. Or was it candy canes? The strength of his deep, thundering singing voice bellowing hymnals at the following morning’s Christmas mass.
Springerles taste like all of these things.
By more practical definition, Springerles are a traditional German cookie made from eggs, flour, sugar and anise, rolled out then embossed using a special press and left to dry overnight before baking. The word springerle is roughly translated to “little knight” or “jumping horse” (why, I cannot find a clear answer) and date back as far as the 14th century. All are stamped with beautiful, often hand-carved, wooden cookie molds, boards or rolling pins that are more often than not engraved with intricate Christmas scenes of der Weihnachtsmann (wikipedia tells me that’s german for Santa Claus), fir trees, wreathes, ornaments, and religious motifs, though there have been multiple fads in the carvings over the centuries. They’re incredibly intricate, artful cookies — one could spend hours scrolling through a Google image search, staring at the multitude of designs. And I do. It’s cookie stamp envy at it’s finest.
This recipe is for what I’m calling a “rustic” version of my great grandmother’s classic Springerle cookies. Rustic because alas, I have no hand-carved, pear wood, authentically German Springerle mold. The good ones are expensive as far as cookie tools go, and though I told myself that I would buy one this year, I missed the boat — perhaps purposefully. Because while I’d love to be the proud owner of a traditional mold, the cookie stamps that I used this year hold special meaning — baking with them was more heartfelt and brought me closer to my German roots than any store-bought tool could.
Around Thanksgiving, my great aunt Agnes passed away at the impressive age of 102. And an impressive lady she was, in much more than just age. The last of her generation remaining in the family, it was a deeply felt loss. I didn’t mention it here on the blog because even though I’ve written one or two soul-bearing posts in the past, I’m finding that for me, at least right now, some things are better when held close to the heart. The cookie stamps used for this recipe were hers. When my mom found them they were still sealed in their original packaging, unopened and unused, (my grandmother – her sister – was more the baker) but still Aggie’s, and that means something. So heck with the traditional, I’m celebrating Agnes, Grandma, and Great Great Grandma Marty with these cookies — between the recipe, the tools and the memories, there’s a little bit of each of them in this version.
I didn’t make any changes to the actual recipe — it is the same that my grandmother made for me, and her mother for her — except for translating “four drops of anise oil” to a half teaspoon. If you’d like a lighter anise flavor, reduce to one-fourth teaspoon. Springerles are sturdy, hard cookies. The dough is molded and cut, left out overnight to dry, then baked and often left out again to harden. After baking, it’s traditional to store them in a tin for two to three weeks to let the flavor develop on the texture soften, however I find it hard to resist them for that long — I think they’re just as delicious shortly after baking, especially when dipped in coffee or hot chocolate. A properly baked Springerle is white on top, lightly golden on bottom. Since they have egg yolks they’ll never be pure white, but if yours start to brown in the oven, reduce the heat by 25F degrees and bake on.
Finally, this is going to be my last Christmas post of the year (New Year’s fun to come!) so I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting this little space and I wish you and your families a warm, cheerful and healthy holiday, no matter which you celebrate. You guys are the best!
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup of sugar
- grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon anise oil
- 3 cups flour, sifted, plus more for rolling out the dough
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of baking powder
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, or by hand, beat eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add the sugar gradually and beat until color is light and mixture is fluffy.
- Add anise oil and lemon rind and mix until combined.
- Sift together the sifted flour, salt and baking powder. If using a stand mixer, switch to paddle attachment and with mixer on low add the dry mixture to egg mixture. If mixing by hand, slowly add in the flour and beat until dough forms. The dough will be sticky.
- On a very well floured surface, with a well floured rolling pin, roll out to about a little thicker than 1/4 inch.
- Let stand for about 15 minutes, until dough starts to dry on top.
- To emboss design, press Springerle board or rolling pin firmly on dough, then cut around the designs. Place cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and let dry overnight.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes at 325 degrees. Place cookies on a cooling rack to cool, leaving them out to dry for 12 - 24 hours. Store in airtight container for up to a month.