November has come and gone and the holiday season is in full swing. I was trying to delay it for a while. Thanksgiving seemed early this year and with a full week of November left, I resisted Christmas music and kept my small box of decorations safely at the top of the closet. I knew I should start tackling my list of Christmas cookies, but my hectic days in lab left me lethargic and unmotivated at night. I told myself there was no reason to rush, it wasn’t even December yet!
But this past weekend ushered in December, and now all excuses are gone. The 60° days and my anxious need for more time in lab before the holiday indicate that it surely can’t be winter and definitely is not time to make Christmas cookies; but, the fact that my dad already has 3 varieties (or more by the time this post is published) of spritz cookies baked and in tins means I’m desperately behind schedule! Mr. R and I stopped by the Christkindlmarkt in Chicago* this weekend and I picked out a new German advent calendar which helped get me in the mood. So on Sunday evening back at home in Madison, I hung my Christmas ornaments from the S-hooks above my kitchenaid and started my first batch of Springerle.
My Christmas cookie planning goes like this: first up the cookies that get better with some age; the next week the dough for all the slice and bake varieties gets wrapped up and stored in the freezer; then come the biscotti and tozzetti; finally the sliced cookies get baked, and the sugar cookies are cut into shapes and decorated (The Christmas lobsters will invariably lose all their claws, no matter what).
I have a few recipes that don’t change from year to year, but I like to leave my baking schedule open for some variation, inspiration, and experimentation. This year I’m already envisioning an orange sliced cookie with a spiral of poppyseed filling; the result of subconsciously dwelling on the thick, sweet slice of poppyseed strudel we spied through the crush of market visitors. I’ve also spent the past week hunting down a lebkuchen recipe that resembles what we had last winter at the markets in Nüremburg. This morning I baked off two cookies from test batch #3 and am happy enough with the result to leave it there for now. Lebkuchen need at least 2 weeks to age for best eating, so I really don’t have anymore time to play around.
The other cookie I’ve been working on this week are the Springerle, and since I’ve mentioned them at least twice in the short time this blog has existed, I thought I better share them with you now. Another German cookie, both my grandmothers made them, and as a child I passed them up for Omi’s decorated pilsen cut-outs or Grandma’s frosted honey cakes. But the Springerle grew on me as I got older. Though the ingredient list is short, I realize these aren’t the sort of cookies that most of you will take on; however, they are a cookie I want all of you to know about, just for the sake of knowing.
Flavored with both anise extract and seed, springerle are made from heavily beaten eggs with powdered sugar and flour. They are light and dry, and I like them best after a few weeks when they become tooth-breakingly hard (a cup of tea will save your enamel or a slice of bread in the tin will keep the cookies softer). These cookies take time and a special mold; they take flexibility and improvisation; they take dry, cold weather and a long, low oven. You have to be patient with these; willing to wait several days to go from raw dough to baked cookie, willing to put them away in a tin and forget about them for a few weeks, willing to deal with the mist of powdered sugar and flour all over your kitchen and the pile of dishes in your sink. But to me they are so worth it; and as the cookies start to disappear, people have been known to carefully ration them out so everyone gets their share.
Springerle In my experience, these cookies are extremely sensitive to humidity and do best when made on a cold winter day. Don’t even try making them in the summer, you’ll end up disappointed. Our WI winter this year is much too warm, and the Springerle wouldn’t dry enough even after sitting out for more than a day. I’m hoping for the temperatures to drop soon so my second batch will turn out better. 4 extra large eggs 1 lb powdered sugar (4 Cups) 1 lb pastry flour (4 Cups) 3 tsp anise extract 1 tsp baking powder anise seed
Put the eggs in your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at full speed for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, measure and sift the powdered sugar. Slow the mixer to medium speed and add the powdered sugar by spoonfuls. When all the sugar has been added, add the anise extract then beat at full speed for another 10 minutes.
Measure and sift the flour and add the baking powder. Turn the mixer off and swap the whisk for the paddle attachment. At slow speed, add the flour by spoonfuls until everything has been incorporated. The dough should be sticky but it should not be flowing like cake batter. If the dough is too soft add more flour 1/4 Cup at a time. Divide the dough in half and shape into rectangles in plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and refrigerate 2 hrs – overnight.
Prepare a pastry board dusted with powdered sugar and sprinkle anise seed on 2-3 rimmed baking trays. Roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, trying to keep the edges square. Using a sugar or flour-dusted cookie mold, press the images into the surface of the dough using even pressure. Cut the cookies apart with a knife or pastry cutter and transfer the cookies to the baking trays. Put the trays in a safe place and cover with a kitchen towel, let stand 12-24 hours until the cookies look dry.
Preheat your oven to 250°. Bake the Springerle for 25-30 minutes. The bottoms should puff up, but the top should remain flat with the imprinted image in tact. Don’t let the cookies brown too much. Remove from the oven and let cool. Store in a air tight container with the loose anise seed from the baking trays. Let age 1-2 weeks before eating. Add a slice of bread if you think the cookies are getting too hard.
*The warm weather made the market oppressively crowded, and I joked to Mr. R that we should just buy a couple weekend tickets to Munich. He told me maybe next year, and I won’t let him forget it! I can’t even begin to put into words how much I loved our visit there last winter. Maybe it was the fact that he surprised me with the trip, or that visiting the German Christmas markets had been on my bucket list since elementary school; but I haven’t stopped thinking about that trip since we came home.