I am not one for extravagance but I love to eat and I have an annual craving for Springerle's, an anise-flavored German cookie. Though they are available now and then at Christmas-time at one area bakery, it's a rare treat when we have them.
This year I ordered a couple of dozen from The Springerle Bakery in Marshall, North Carolina and they are both a treat to see and to eat.
This tiny cookie, less than two inches in length, is an example of the type included in their dozen. Each is carefully made - a work of art, even - and traditional in every sense of the word. They even use hartshorn (Baker's ammonia) in their recipe, an ingredient that goes back to the earliest days.
While similar-tasting cookies are available for the holidays, they are usually much larger and not quite of the same taste. When Woody's Market in West Carrollton, Ohio, was still in operation, they had a German baker by the name of Hans. We looked forward to bags of his cookies every Christmas. They were simply exceptional on all counts.
The Springerle Bakery says of the cookie: "This rare type of cookie began life somewhere in Southern Germany as betrothal tokens, tellers of tales, social commentary, and to celebrate daily life." They say that Springerle molds, which impress the detailed pictures upon the cookies, are known since the Middle Ages.
All of the great Springerle's I've had through the years share three attributes: that taste of licorice, a hard, crunchy exterior and a soft interior.
We tried to make these one year. We even ordered hartshorn, determined to use an original recipe and make them with the time-honored ingredients. It is a difficult cookie to make, requiring several days to do properly. And our finished product was not nearly so delicious as what we could buy.
An anise-flavored sugar cookie will give you the taste, of course, but none of the texture or romance.
Springerle's are one of the few things in life which can't be hurried or duplicated with modern methods. They belong to the distant past. Thank goodness we can still find them today.