Sunday, December 14, 2014

Springerle -A Christmas Cookie Tradition


Spingerle! It's a German word --and I'm not exactly sure how to pronounce it since my German ancestors are a few generations past and the language is lost to my family. Google tells me it's 'shpring-air-ley', but I say 'spring-er-lee'--exactly how it looks. No matter how the word is pronounced (any German-speaking readers, please, chime in!), these beautiful stamped cookies have been in my family for generations and I love telling people about them.

Christmas has not officially started for me until I've had that first bite of a springerle. I'll warn you though; if you don't like anise flavor, you probably won't adore this cookie like I do. It's pure anise joy. If you are a fellow black-jelly-bean-and-licorice-craving-fool, however, you will appreciate the springerle very much. Since I'm that kid who always picked the black jelly-beans out for myself, craving the tingly, sharp anise flavor, spingerle have always been one of my favorite Christmas cookies.

A long time ago I discovered my own Jelly Belly recipe for springerle! ;)

*Note: there are other traditional Christmas cookies with anise flavor, too! Some that I've recently learned about: Biscochitos, and Pizelles, and Italian Anisette Cookies

Spingerle are chewy anise cookies with a crisp crust, and are made with pictures pressed in the tops, using wooden or resin molds. There are many suppliers of these molds; House on The Hill is one site I love looking at. If you are curious enough to try springerle and do not want to get a mold, you could try this similar German anise cookie in drop form. The pictures, however, are one of the reasons I love springerle so much; I remember as a child examining all the different pictures on the cookies, and I always had a favorite. For some reason the picture with a pair of cherries charmed me the most.

We are lucky to still have the wooden mold that includes my favorite cherry shape. This mold has been in the family for generations, and still has my great-grandma's handwriting on the back of it. If you look closely under her handwritten 'cookies', you'll see a stamp that says 'Germany.' A true family heirloom!

The back of our family cookie mold heirloom includes
Great-grandma's handwriting and a "Germany" stamp

Every Christmas Eve during my childhood my large extended family would meet at my Grandma and Grandpa Harber's tiny house, filling it to the brim. I remember the windows of the house literally steaming up as we all crammed in, talking and laughing and enjoying each other. I have such beautiful memories of those Christmas Eves...and springerle play a big part in my nostalgia. Grandma would have retrieved the springerle from their storage place in the attic (sometimes they were still cold from storage), and she'd tuck them onto the cookie tray, next to the peanut brittle, sugar cookies, and toffee crunch. I would eat at least a few springerle throughout the night--we always stayed very late--and once or twice I may have taken a springerle home to leave out for Santa Claus. Many of my cousins wouldn't even touch the anise-flavored cookies, so I was always guaranteed as many as I liked.

Springerle pictures can also be rolled out using a special molded rolling pin.
Grandma Harber didn't inherit the recipe, or even eat them as a child. Her roots were predominantly Irish. Her husband, my Grandpa with predominantly German roots, did eat and LOVE these cookies every Christmas of his life. He has German roots on both sides of his family, but his mother is the one who carried on the spingerle tradition. The tradition may have stopped with her if it hadn't been for her son's sweet wife (my Irish Grandma), who began making the cookies for him when they got married because he loved them so much. She loved them as well--so I inherited my love for anise flavor pretty honestly! As far as we know, none of great-grandma's daughters carried on the tradition; in childhood, they were put in charge of beating the eggs for the yearly spingerles, and since the original recipe stated to beat the eggs for ONE HOUR, their memories of spingerle making must have included drudgery. Luckily, beating the eggs for one hour is not necessary with modern electric beaters (and I am not sure one hour was ever necessary. Was great grandma just trying to keep her many daughters busy?).

My grandma usually made her springerle at the beginning of December and packed them into tins, tucking the tins into her attic until Christmas. Why the attic? Mom tells me it may have been partly to hide them and keep her nine children out of them. :) An important step of making springerle is the rest time. As they age they form a hard crust on the outside, but remain tender and chewy on the inside. The rest time also allows the anise flavor to develop and deepen into something so, so lovely.

Great Grandma's recipe, in grandma's handwriting.
My grandma cut this recipe down and changed
it slightly to make it her own. Mom and I have altered that recipe just
a tiny bit more. 

Simple ingredients. Anise oil is available at any baking store.

Getting the dough to the right consistency is the trick.
You should be able to squeeze it into a hunk that stays together
with no crumbling, but it shouldn't be too sticky.

Wrapping the dough up while it chills will keep it from drying out.

Roll and shape the dough to fit your mold

Then press the mold firmly down, rocking it from side to side to
get nice, evenly pressed pictures.

The secret tool...a pizza cutter!
It makes sharp, perfect cuts into the springerle.
Mom and I prefer it over a knife.

Spingerle look so pretty resting and waiting to be baked!

*I'm a sucker for history and family traditions. Check out this link at Once Upon a Time in A Bed of Wildflowers for some ancestral cookies shared by some dear blogging friends...including an intriguing Dutch cookie called Jan Hagel.

Springerle                  Print Recipe

 a traditional German anise-flavored Christmas cookie

4 eggs
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 t. lemon extract OR 1 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. anise oil   (*see note)
2 T. milk
1 T. melted butter
4 c. all-purpose flour *see update below
1 t. baking powder

*Update 12-22-20 Changed from 4 1/4 c. to simply 4 c. because the past couple of years we've noticed the dough has turned out dryer than we'd like.
*Note: 1/2 t. anise oil is what I recommend for newbies. This amount is variable according to taste. Using 1 t. will give a stronger anise flavor; if you are really brave, use 1.5 t, like I do!

1. Beat eggs until light, or for 5 minutes on medium speed using an electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add lemon extract, anise oil, milk and melted butter and briefly mix until they are incorporated into batter.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder with a whisk. Add the dry ingredients to the batter a cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. The dough will become very stiff and may become hard to beat; if your mixer starts struggling, knead the dough by hand, making sure to incorporate all dry ingredients. You should be able to squeeze the dough into a ball that sticks together. If the dough seems too dry or crumbly, add milk by the teaspoon, kneading or mixing it in, until you have a consistency that is neither too dry nor too sticky.

3. Divide dough into thirds and wrap each section in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour.

4. Unwrap one ball of dough and cut off a section to roll out. Wrap whatever you are not using back up in the plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin and your hands to help shape the dough, roll it into a 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle the top with a bit of flour and lightly rub it in, then position your spingerle mold. Press firmly on the mold, rocking it back and forth at each corner to make sure you are getting nice and even pictures on the top the dough. If using a roller, press firmly down and slowly roll out your pictures.

5. Remove the mold. If your pictures are not as sharp as you'd like, you can replace the mold carefully and press some more. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and make sharp, clean cuts around each picture.

6. Carefully place the cookies on a baking sheet that has been lightly oiled or is lined with parchment paper silpat would be nice, too, if you are lucky enough to have it!). You can place the cookies fairly close together, because they will not spread when baked. Let the cookies rest overnight, covered with a tea towel or wax paper. The rest time will allow the pictures to set and stay firm and beautiful while baking.

7. After the cookies have rested at least 12 hours, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes or until tips of cookies are lightly browned. Cool thoroughly, then pack into tins or jars with lids. Before putting the lids on, cover the cookies with wax paper and place a slice of bread on top to keep the cookies from becoming too hard. Store for at least two weeks before eating for best flavor and texture!

Crisp outsides, chewy insides, and awesome anise flavor.
Springerle are especially wonderful eaten along with a cup of hot coffee.

Happy Holidays! If you have a special Christmas cookie tradition in your family, please leave a comment and tell us about it!

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  1. This is such a special post! I love all the tradition behind it! :)
    And thanks for linking to my ancestral cookie post! I really appreciate it!
    ~ Christine | Once Upon a Time in a Bed of Wildflowers

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Christine! Isn't it fun to read about the traditions and stories that so many families have around the holidays...especially when it involves yummy food? ;)

  2. Love that you are carrying on an old tradition! You go!

    1. Thank you! I love participating in traditions that are part of my personal family history. <3

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