Isn’t it amazing how cultural identity and family history can be tied into something as simple as cookies?
My mom remembers her Swiss German grandmother making springerle, a traditional cookie in the Bavaria-Austria-Switzerland region known for its puffy shape (“little pillows” my mom called them), intricate raised designs, and anise flavor. My mom learned several Swiss recipes from her grandmother, but springerle was not one of them. The “family recipe” died with my mom’s cousin. The whereabouts of the molded rolling pin used to shape them is unknown.
We have been meaning for years to add springerle to our repertoire of Christmas cookies. Last year for Christmas, I did some Googling and bought my mom a springerle kit from a lovely little website called Springerle Joy. We planned to try it well in advance of next Christmas so we could totally screw up the first time.
Imagine our excitement when I got an email from Springerle Joy saying that this fall they would be offering hands-on classes! My mom signed us up almost immediately.
So last weekend we traveled to Pittsburgh, just a two-hour drive for us in NE Ohio, and met Patrice Romzick, owner of Springerle Joy, who taught us how to make springerle cookies. It was the best thing we could have done, because with springerles there is no substitute for experience.
The class was only 4 people, so there was plenty of room, and plenty of individual attention. We started with making dough, which has a very simple recipe: eggs, sugar, flour, and a flavoring. However, to get the right consistency you sometimes need to tweak the amount of flour you add. It was raining that day, so we all had to add several extra cups of flour to the dough.
The cookies still rise with out any kind of leavening agent; the trick is to first beat the eggs very very well, until they are frothy and bubbly, then add the dry ingredients quickly to keep all the air trapped in. The air bubbles expand when heated, making the cookies puff up and lift off the sheet on a “foot.”
Next is the fun part. We rolled out the dough, pressed the molds in, and cut out the cookies with either cookie cutters or a ravioli cutter.
We were allowed to use any molds that Patrice had in stock…I got a little carried away with the number I picked out. All her molds are made by a Swiss company called Änis-Paradies; some have been carved in recent years, but others are reproductions of old traditional molds. I love these because they have been replicated with the cracks and warp of the original still included. It really makes me feel connected to the old traditions.
The molded cookies have to dry for a day or so before baking, so we practiced baking some that Patrice had cut out the previous day. She then showed us options for decorating including painting and added some melted chocolate to the back. They really looked quite professional!
We brought our cookies back home with us and baked them the next day. Our first batch we had the temperature too high, and instead of rising nicely, they puffed up into domes. We turned the temp down to around 275 for the later ones and they came out beautifully, although some stuck to the cookie sheet a little. The really big cookies I let dry another day before baking.
I took a plate into work (lemon, hazelnut, and raspberry flavors) and they were gone in a day. But any food left in the breakroom is gone in a day, so…
My mom and I were really pleased with the class and how much we learned. We are ready to try springerle at Christmas this year!
If you want to sign up for springerle-making classes, you can find more info at the Springerle Joy website (the Oct 11 class still has openings!) You can also browse all of the hundreds of molds and other supplies available for purchase.