Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Righteous German Soul-Food Christmas Cookies

Amen, you all, Ayyyyyyy-men. We baked our springerles this evening! A truly worthy use for the venerable, vintage Maytag Dutch Oven range in our kitchen!

For those of you who don’t know about them, springerles (pronounced springer-leez or shpringer-leez, I’m not sure which) are a pale, light, crispy cookie almost always flavored with anise. Though they can be cut into shapes, they’re usually squares or rectangles and have pretty little patterns imprinted on the top surface.

Some people around here call them “anise cookies.”

You can use special springerle rolling pins to make them, or you can use springerle presses.

Or you can do like I did the first year I made them, and use a butter knife to make little “star” patterns on the top. A blunted toothpick added extra pizzazz. That got kinda tedious, though, with so many cookies.

If you overcook them, they can become incredibly tough. In fact, it is not a big problem if this happens, because they get better as they age: You’re supposed to bake them, let them cool, then pack them in airtight containers for at least a couple of weeks before serving.

This is one of those Christmas cookies—like lepkuchen—that you can store with an apple to enhance the flavor while protecting and perfecting their texture.

Alas, I don’t have either of my grandmas’ recipes for springerles. My recipe comes from that groovy 1949 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cook Book that I got from Cousin Marguerite’s kitchen. (I raved about this incredible book earlier this year.) The springerle recipe is printed on pages 709–10.

I’ll pass it along to you, but this time I’m not copying it word-for-word. I’m changing the wording slightly. The original has instructions written in one long paragraph—I’ve made it easier by adding hard returns and such between the steps. (Yeah! You’re welcome!) My own comments, where I differ with the recipe, appear in square brackets.

I usually double this recipe—for me, this year, doubling it yielded 120 cookies, some smaller than others.


4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour [like Swans Down—and measure it correctly, you!]
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
1 pound powdered sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind [I use a microplane grater]
anise seeds [or anise extract] [you can use both]

On the First Day, Make and Roll Out the Dough:

1. Sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside.

2. Beat eggs until light [I use a hand mixer].

3. Stir the sugar into the eggs; beat with a spoon until thoroughly combined.

4. Add lemon rind to eggs mixture; add anise extract if using it instead of seeds. Then add the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly. Dough will be stiff.

5. [Cover it so it doesn’t dry out], and chill until firm enough to handle easily.

6. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured board.

7. Cut into fancy shapes with cookie cutters, or use a springerle rolling pin to impress the surface with patterns, then cut cookies into individual pieces [I use a pizza cutter!]

8. Grease cookie sheets; sprinkle them with anise seed [if using anise seed]. [Using parchment paper on the cookie sheets instead of greasing them is an excellent alternative.]

9. Arrange cookies, 1/2 inch apart, on sheets, and leave them exposed to the air, overnight or for 12 hours. [I’ve found this is a great use for an unheated sunporch. The idea here is to let the surfaces dry a bit so that when the cookies bake and rise, the surface pattern stays intact. And I’ve found you can let them sit longer than 12 hours, depending on humidity and such.]

10. A note about anise oil versus anise extract: Anise oil is much, much stronger; you'll only need a few drops, or a small dribble for a doubled recipe. If you use more, it will end up tasting like black jelly beans, or Nyquil. Anise extract is more easily available, and you'll need to use a lot more of it. At least half a teaspoon, I'd say, or more.

On the Next Day, Bake the Cookies:

1. Bake in a moderate (350 degree) oven for 30 minutes. [Whoa! Mine usually only take about 7 or maybe 10 minutes, depending on thickness! The take-home point here is, Keep an eye on them. They’re done when they just start to turn slightly pinkish on the edges and the bottoms are cooked.]

2. When they’re cool, store them in a covered jar for 2 or 3 weeks before serving.

Makes about 30 cookies. [Though it depends on the cookie size! Most of my springerles are about 2 x 1.5 inches, and I get about 50 or 60 cookies from this recipe, not doubled.]

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