Each year, just before Christmas, Mom and I start thinking about springerles. They're a traditional German holiday cookie, anise-flavored, crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle. In years past, my aunt and uncle, Mae and Charles Boyer, would pick us up a dozen at a Belmont bakery. They've been gone a couple of years so we've had to fend for ourselves for recent Christmas's. Two years ago, that meant ordering a couple of dozen online. They're really prohibitively expensive, though.
Farther back, we used to buy them from Woody's bakery in West Carrollton. No doubt, those were the best of all ... small white pillows. heavily spiced with licorice.
This year I decided to give baking them a try. Many years ago I tried the old-fashioned method, using hartshorn. Just finding the stuff is a challenge. And I've wondered whether it's actually necessary.
I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com for a Traditional Springerle. It didn't look too difficult. I decided to try it.
They turned out fine. Rather than use anise seeds (which Mom would have preferred, but seeing as how I was the baker ...) I used anise flavoring, a clear bottled liquid available in Kroger's spice isle. But how much? I opted for half a teaspoon with this recipe. Mom called that "just right" though I might go with a full teaspoon next time. It's the overpowering licorice taste you want. Be brave!
Never one to follow directions, I first melted the margarine and added the sugar and eggs. I stirred this quite well with a whisk (I did not want to bother with an electric mixer). I then added the baking powder, vanilla extract and anise flavoring. Again, I made sure this mixture was whisked thoroughly. It produces a creamy, yellow, thick liquid.
Finally, I added the flour, a little at a time and stirred it with a large spoon.
Then, as shown above, I took handfuls of the dough, sprinkled them a bit with flour to keep them from sticking, and rolled it to about 1/2" thickness with a plain roller. Finally I rolled with a springerle roller which has the images etched into the wood. I pressed hard enough so that the image was clear and reduced the thickness of the dough to about 1/4".
At this point it's just a matter of slicing the individual cookies. I carried each (balanced two at a time on the knife) to parchment paper where they were left to dry overnight. I covered them with a light cotton cloth.
I did not use any powdered sugar to coat the roller or the dough. That seems to me simply a no-stick option and flour works as well. I doubt the sugar affects the taste and seemed an unnecessary complication to me. I've never eaten a spingerle with a powdered sugar coating.
This drying stage is absolutely necessary. The tops will dry out a bit while the insides will remain somewhat damp. When they bake, the insides will rise - but not the top. They gain the appearance of little white pillows.
I baked a pan of 20 for 24 minutes at 250°. I tested with a toothpick to make sure they were done. You want the insides the stay a bit chewy, but certainly not dried out. This recipe made 52 cookies.
Bottom line: quite good! They're certainly the taste and texture of traditional springerles. I prefer Woody's (which was long ago closed) larger size but I was limited by the size of impression my rolling pin makes. So I have smaller cookies but with the wonderful licorice taste. They're just the same, only smaller.
All in all, they're not at all hard to make. So this will be a cookie we make every year. No more ordering from bakeries or online. We can do almost as well and at a fraction of the price.
And hartshorn? Forget it. Baking powder works just fine.