One of the best things about my job is that I get the opportunity to travel to Europe every now and then. Last month my department had a global meeting at company headquarters in Basel. I was especially looking forward to the trip because it was just at the start of the holiday season in Europe. Even though I travel to Europe quite frequently I've never been right before Christmas, always after.
My friends Steve and Becky took me to the Basel Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair) that was in the heart of of old town. Out of the myriad of stalls my favorite was the one that sold springerle cookie molds. Springerle cookies are German in origin and made by pressing a carved mold onto rolled dough to make a pattern impression. Normally they appear around Christmas time. There were so many beautiful designs to choose from but in the end I went with a traditional tree.
I searched the internet for a springerle recipe and found a great one here on House on the Hill's website. This company makes springerle molds so I figured they'd be the authority on everything about the cookies.
The dough is pretty straightforward, however it does call for a very particular ingredient as a leavening agent that isn't well known in America - hartshorn, aka baker's ammonia or ammonium carbonate. You can use baking powder as a substitute, but hartshorn helps the cookies retain their intricate design and their texture crispy. Luckily I had some in my pantry...acquired on a trip to Norway where they sell it in the supermarket.
The key to success is making sure you flour the mold really well before you press it in to the rolled out dough. My only complaint was that I didn't have a rectangle cookie cutter large enough to fit the design so I had to hand cut each cookie. Note to self: buy a mold that fits within a cutter I already have!
After all the cookies were stamped and cut they had to air dry for at least 12 hours in a cool, dry place. Don't skip the air drying because it sets the pattern and forms a nice skin on the top of each cookie. The springerle are baked in a low oven (around 300-325 degrees) until the bottoms are lightly browned. Make sure not to get the tops of the cookies brown! The amount of time in the oven really depends on the size and thickness of the cookie. The springerle I made were 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in size and about 1/3 inch thick and baked in the oven for about 20 minutes.
For my first attempt I think my springerle came out pretty nice. I want to try a speculaas recipe next time. And you can be certain that I'll be acquiring more molds on my future trips to Europe!