I’ve seen wooden molds with delicate designs carved into them many times as I’ve browsed through antique shops and rummaged my way through flea markets. I never really knew what they were supposed to be used for. A neighbor once gave me the light colored rolling pin you can see in the photo above. She’d had it for years and wasn’t exactly sure if she’d ever used it, but she thought it would be a nice addition to the collection of old rolling pins I kept in an old wicker bike basket hanging on the wall in my kitchen. That was years ago. I’ve never used that carved rolling pin. Until last Sunday.
I was invited to join the Oja family in their spacious kitchen for their annual springerle-making day. Snowflakes were falling as another friend and I pulled into the long driveway leading to their house tucked into the countryside outside of Bemidji, Minnesota. As I stepped into the warm and cozy home, I was immediately hit with the aroma of mulling spices and cardamom. Beth Oja, our hostess, had prepared Finnish Pulla and mulled cider made from apples the family had picked from their trees and pressed themselves. I thought I might be in heaven. And, I knew this was going to be a great day.
Beth had already pulled out the tried-and-true springerle recipe that she had gotten many years ago from a German family she was friends with when she was growing up in Burlington, Iowa. For many Germans, the crunchy, biscuit-like springerles (an archaic German word meaning a springing or jumping horse) are a Christmas tradition.
Beth has a collection of springerle molds that she has gathered over the years, finding some old ones at flea markets and antique shops. She has some newer molds, too. She recommends anyone looking to buy a wooden mold or two to check out her favorite resource for springerle molds, House on the Hill in River Forest, Illinois. Beth keeps her molds out on display all year long.
Anise-flavored sweet dough, rich with butter and eggs is rolled out, stamped with wooden molds, and the embossed design air-dried before baking. In the heat of the oven, the imprinted dough puffs up like little pillows. They are almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
In one bowl, Beth mixed sugar with egg yolks and butter until the mixture was light and creamy.
An old-time leavening agent called Hartshorn, sometimes referred to as bakers ammonia, is used rather than baking powder to produce the fluffiest texture possible. Don’t stick your nose in the jar — the smell is awful. It could actually take your breath away — in a bad way. But once the dough is baked, hartshorn cannot be detected by smell or taste. It seems to disappear and the anise takes over, casting its strong licorice aroma throughout the kitchen.
Finally, the flour is incorporated into the batter and it’s ready to roll. Beth buys bleached flour only once a year, and that’s for the springerle. One five-pound bag is just enough for one batch of the dough. The bleached flour keeps the baked springerle almost as white as snow.
The counter is cleared to make way for the dough, the molds and plenty of flour for rolling.
Making springerle is a group effort.
A successful day of making springerle. I came home with two trays filled with beautifully embossed cookies. I left them out on the kitchen table overnight. In the morning, I was greeted with the wonderful fragrance of anise. I’ve left a few of my baked springerles out on the kitchen counter just to keep the house smelling like a German Christmas.
Beth’s Springerles by way of the Blaufuss family in Burlington, Iowa
- 6 cups sugar
- 12 egg yolks
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter
Cream sugar, yolks and butter until smooth.
- 12 egg whites
In another large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add to egg yolk mixture and beat at medium speed for 20 minutes.
- 2 tablespoons Hartshorn (baking ammonia)
- 1 ounce anise oil
Beat at medium speed for 10 minutes.
- 5 pounds bleached all-purpose flour
Roll out pieces of dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Press with springerle molds. Cut out each cookie. Dry springerle, uncovered, overnight.
Bake on parchment-lined baking sheet in 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cooled springerle freeze well.