I’m giving away the family secrets on this one. This is a German cookie from my Great, Great, Great Grandparents on my Mother’s side. That means this is a Great recipe. 😉
My mother passed away February 29, 2008. I miss her a lot, especially around the holidays. No matter how old I got I was still her little boy. She ruled the roost and never let you forget it. She was quite a remarkable woman. When she passed, the three boys (now all in their 50s) were afforded the opportunity to have some of her possessions and we all took something that reminded us of Mom. I took Mom’s cookbooks, including her personal cookbook. You see, Dad has never really cooked in his life. He doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t want to cook, and doesn’t have to cook. So he doesn’t cook. The closest he comes to cooking is making sandwiches although occasionally he does make cranberry relish and spinach casserole. The rest of the time he eats frozen dinners, goes out to eat or my sister-in-law Gladys or I cook for him. To say the least, he wasn’t going to use Mom’s cookbooks.
One of my most cherished possessions is Mom’s personal cookbook.
It’s a 3 ring binder full of recipes.
Like most personal cookbooks it’s a collection of recipes from various sources that she tried or intended to try at some point. Some of them she put in her computer and printed on index cards. Some were handwritten. Others are clippings from newspapers or magazines. It’s even got an old chili recipe I developed 20+ years ago that I know she never fixed as it was a firehouse chili that was way too hot for her or my Dad. Many of the recipes I remember her fixing when I was growing up. Others she made after we were all grown. Then there are a few family recipes. This post on Springerle cookies is one of them.
Now, I have previously written my Mom wasn’t a good cook (and she wasn’t) but that doesn’t mean she didn’t cook or that the food she cooked wasn’t good because it was. You see, Mom was charged with feeding 3 growing boys and my Dad. Now, Dad would eat anything and Mom used to complain that he would ruin a good cook (he would). I liked food of all kinds (except liver which Mom wouldn’t allow to be cooked in the house so we were OK). Lester and John kinda liked food, weren’t overly finicky (other than John wanted steak for every meal) but they had certain foods they simply would not eat. I remember one evening Lester refused to eat his spinach so Dad made him sit there until it was finished. The spinach was still his plate when it was bedtime. So, Dad decreed he had to eat it for breakfast the next day. The following day Lester (who had and still has a lot of Tom Sawyer in him) had his spinach for breakfast while we had our cereal. As he was eating his spinach, he started telling John and me how good his spinach was and wouldn’t it be nice for us to have spinach, too. Didn’t we want a bite of his spinach? Mom’s, being the dutiful wife and mother, firmly told him and us he couldn’t share his spinach and that Dad had decreed Lester alone must eat his spinach, all of it. At this point we told Mom if that was the case, then she should fix us spinach for breakfast, too! At that point Mom wanted to skin Dad alive for the predicament in which he had placed her. 😮
So these were the conditions in which Mom had to cook. Mom had 4 hungry mouths to feed every day. She had to keep them satisfied while keeping the meals nutritious and low in fats and cholesterol (Dad was and is very anti cholesterol and fat/calorie conscious). Despite this difficult cooking environment (faced by virtually every housewife cooking for a family), Mom always turned out balanced, nutritious, calorie conscious meals for the family. The meals weren’t bad. In fact, they almost always were tasty but they were rather bland and there is only so much you can do with canned/frozen vegetables, potato flakes, instant rice, very lean meats, canned tuna fish, etc. During the Holidays, however, Mom got to cook and made some very nice dishes. I have been meaning to cook some of her recipes and there was no better time to start than the Holiday Season, especially her cookies. This recipe is one Mom made every Christmas that I can remember until she simply could no longer cook, shortly before she passed away. I’ve never made this recipe before. Remember, I don’t bake. Nonetheless, before we get to the recipe, I need to tell you a little about Springerle cookies.
Springerle is a white, anise-flavored traditional German biscuit. They have an embossed design made by pressing a mold onto rolled dough. The dough is then allow to dry before baking to preserve the detail of the surface pattern. Springerles have been around for over 400 years and trace back to the Julfest, a midwinter celebration of pagan Germanic tribes. Julfest ceremonies included, among other things, the sacrificing of animals to the gods, in hope that such sacrificial offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill their animals would give token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies, such as the Springerle. Biblical scenes were and are popular images portrayed on the Springerle molds. These images were used to educate those who were illiterate. Nowadays, the cookies reflect images of holidays, events, and scenes from every day life. Exchanging Springerle ultimately became a Holiday tradition very much like the practice of exchanging Holiday cards today. Recipes and molds have passed from generation to generation.
The name Springerle comes from an old German dialect and means “little knight” or “jumping horse.” It is derived from the fact that the earliest images were horses and their riders and the cookies seem to “spring up” when baked. Traditionally, Springerle molds were made from clay, wood and metal. Many of the ancient molds are in European museums and in private collections. Today, most molds are wooden molds. Additionally, there are rolling pins that have the molds carved in them. Obviously, rolling pin molds are for people who bake and know what they are doing. The wooden molds are for clumsy folks, like me.
Springerles are a wonderful Holiday cookie. Inasmuch as ‘Tis the Season, we wanted to share this recipe with you. They take a little work and some time but they are absolutely worth the effort. We hope you give them a try and enjoy them with your family this Holiday Season.
Now, given this is my Great, Great, Great Grandparents’ recipe, I am certain they did not use baking powder because it was not invented until the 19th century. Instead, I am certain hartshorn salt (baker’s ammonia) was used. Hartshorn salt is a leavening agent that smells like ammonia prior to cooking but once cooked no semblance of ammonia, either taste or smell, can be found. Given Hartshorn salt was replaced by baking powder and is difficult to find, someone along the way substituted baking powder and that’s the way my Mom learned this recipe.
Armed with Mom’s recipe I set forth on my baking quest for the Holidays.
First, I added the eggs to the mixer and beat for 5 minutes.
The eggs will get quite frothy and thick. After 5 minutes, add the sugar a little bit at a time.
Now add the melted butter. I used clarified butter because I had it.
Next, is the lemon zest
Then the salt followed by the anise extract. I didn’t have anise extract but I did have some Absynthe (aka the “Green Fairy’); so, I substituted 1 Tbsp of Absynthe for the 3/4 tsp of anise extract.
Now switch from the whip to the paddle on the mixer and begin to add the sifted flour and baking soda.
Mom wasn’t kidding about this being a thick cookie dough.
Pour dough out onto a floured board and roll out.
I’m not skilled enough to get the dough in a rectangle so I could use the rectangular Christmas molds, so I got a cookie cutter appropriately sized to match my round mold and cut out the cookies in rounds. Hmmm…it never seems to fail. I never get the correct number of cookies out of a recipe. I only got 38 instead of 60. I probably needed to roll them thinner.
Once cut out, dip the Springerle mold in a little flour and press on the cookies to form the pattern. Cute little gingerbread man and a gift from Mom. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to sit overnight.
Bake at 350 F for 10 – 12 minutes until done. DO NOT BROWN. Remove from oven. Allow to cool and place on plate. Obviously, I need a little more practice. 😉 Enjoy and Happy Holidays my friends!