Poking around at an estate sale a few weeks ago, I found that things seemed picked-over for the most part. But just when I was about ready to leave empty-handed, I saw a familiar looking wall hanging in the corner of the kitchen. I knew immediately that it wasn’t merely a carved wooden block; it was a large and unusual springerle mold. I quickly took it to the check-out man and asked for a price. He shrugged and proposed a bargain: “Three bucks!” I tried to conceal my excited grin as I gladly handed him the cash.
Springerle molds range widely in size, intricacy and age. This new-to-me mold is wooden, about 4 x 9″, and bears a sticker that says it was made in Strasbourg at a place called Trouvailles. It’s carved with 18 different critters — perfect for autumn’s own visitors and holidays, in my view. Having never seen one quite like it, I could hardly wait to put it to use. I immediately began thinking of new recipes for springerle: those beautiful white German cookies flavored with anise. Even though I enjoy the traditional style and flavor, I was ready for a fresh twist and was soon to settle on my own color, texture and flavor.
Orange Cocoa Springerle* (makes about 70 little cookies; mine were 1.25 x 1.5″)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3.5 cups flour, preferably cake flour
- 4 eggs
- 3.5 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon pure orange oil
Sift together first three ingredients; set aside. Beat eggs with an electric mixer (preferably a standing mixer with whisk attachment) on high until they are voluminous, pale and creamy, about 8-10 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over the beaten eggs, mixing it in slowly. Add orange oil and mix until incorporated. Add the flour mixture a little at a time with mixer on low, replacing whisk with paddle or dough hook if needed. Dough will become very thick; mix it just until it holds together and is even.
Cover dough in plastic while you line cookie sheets with parchment paper, dust a work surface with flour, and brush your mold with powdered sugar. Take only as much dough as you need for your first round of pressing, keeping the rest covered in plastic. If dough feels too sticky, freely add a little flour by hand. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/3″ thick. Push the prepared press into it firmly and evenly, then remove. Cut edges with a pizza cutter, knife, or cookie cutter. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared cookie sheets. Repeat until all the dough is gone, then leave the raw cookies sitting out at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. If desired, drape wax paper or parchment loosely over cookies to avoid debris. As they sit, they will lighten in color as their imprints set in place. Preheat oven to 250 F. Bake the dried springerle for 40 to 50 minutes depending on size.
With a toothsome hint of cocoa and orange, these striking little cookies are a treat for the mouth and eyes alike. Their soft, tender centers stray from the crumbliness of traditional springerle, yet they still do just what the name implies: spring up in the oven and spring off the plate in a flash! Beautiful, delicious, and a little bit different: that’s my kind of dessert.
Maybe next time… To fancy these up, I’m already planning to serve my next batch in mini-cupcake liners. One could also use a small paintbrush to gently decorate the tops with more powdered sugar or edible glitter. In terms of flavor, the possibilities are nearly endless: try almost any flavored oil or extract in place of orange, and feel free to replace the cocoa with flour. I chose a small amount of cocoa and avoided speckled spices to ensure the design would come through, but there’s no reason to hold back your own baking instincts.
*I admit it: Without being anise-flavored, crisp, and pale white, these cookies probably shouldn’t be called springerle at all. But I’m doing so for simplicity; besides, the many springerle recipes I’ve seen vary greatly in baking temperature, drying time, and even ingredients.