Tradition #3 is Baking Springerle. These traditional anise-flavored German Christmas cookies deserve their own spot on our list of holiday traditions. On Warren’s mother’s side of the family they are the all-time favorite. Gather the family and bring a container of Springerle and you will see eyes light up and lips licked for a taste of Grandmom Ruth’s specialty, for you see the tradition has almost died out with only Warren and a cousin still making the treat.
By definition, Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies, made from a simple egg-flour-sugar dough. Usually rectangular or circular in shape, they have a picture or design stamped on the top. The images are imprinted with specially carved rolling pins or flat molds (Springerle presses, or boards). Warren has been collecting these molds for over ten years. His great-grandmother’s rolling pin is proudly displayed in our kitchen and was given to her by her husband as a gift brought from Germany in the late 1800’s. The history of Springerle dates back into the 15th century and started to honor church holy days. Many of the impressions on the molds are religious, but in more recent history depict animals, flowers and the modern resin molds even have decorations for holidays such as Halloween.
Most times these cookies are baked for Christmas, as a special treat as the process is time consuming. After all in the cookie’s history they were used much as we send Christmas cards today. Over 40 years ago I was introduced to making these embossed gems. Warren’s grandmother taught me, using her recipe (Written in handfuls and pounds instead of cups and teaspoons! At least it was English) and all beat and mixed by hand. The traditional leavening agent in the cookies is Hartshorn, or baker’s ammonia. This is what makes the cookies “spring up” when baking. After pressing the design into the cookies they must rest for 24 hours to set the pattern in order to hold it during baking. Because these cookies have no fat in them they dry out and harden even if sealed tightly, but hardcore Springerle fans will just dunk the cookie and enjoy!