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My grandmother, Helen Getz, turns 94 today, and she's as sturdy and charming as the springerle cookies she makes this time of year. What, you've never heard of a springerle? Now's your chance to learn all about this lovable German treat.
But first, the truth: when I was young, why anyone would eat a springerle, a hard anise-and-lemon scented cookie, was incomprehensible. It was white and not at all buttery. It did not melt in your mouth, but assaulted you with an intense flavor called anise! It showed up at Christmas and could linger in the cookie jar until Easter, giving my mother an excuse not to make any other cookies until they were gone. And the adults who liked them were obviously misguided.
I have grown wiser with age and have come to appreciate springerle’s defensive façade. Its anise seed is balanced by lemon. Its patterned top is a thing of beauty. It’s the under-appreciated German cousin to biscotti. Moreover, I now have an actual appreciation for method and springerles are all about method.
Springerles are typically made using either springerle molds or a springerle rolling pin (but you don’t have to have them, so don’t give up). After patting (or rolling) out the dough, you use the mold or springerle rolling pin to imprint the top of the dough with shapes and designs. You cut the dough into rectangles, set the cookies on baking sheets, and then comes the odd-ball part: you let the cookies sit out overnight to dry out the dough before baking. (Is this safe? I don’t know. I’ve eaten them my whole life and I’m still here)
Finally, when you bake them, you do so at a low temperature so the cookies never brown. And after all that, you’re left with a hard, fragrant chip that’s as beautiful as a majong tile and a perfect partner to eggnog and warm milky tea.
Helen Getz’s Springerles
Makes about 24 cookies
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons crushed anise seed or fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or by using good ol’ elbow grease, beat the eggs and salt until light and foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar (I do about 1/ 4 cup at a time) until thick and cream-colored. Be patient – this takes a while.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until a dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead it lightly for less than a minute, then pat into a rectangle 1/ 4-inch thick and just a little narrower than the springerle rolling pin (if you don’t have a springerle rolling pin, read on, I’ll get to this), sprinkling flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface. If you have a springerle rolling pin, roll it over the dough, firm enough to make in impression but not so firm as to flatten the dough. Cut into individual cookies, following the pattern. Transfer to the parchment lined baking sheets and let stand overnight. (If you don’t have the rolling pin, roll the dough a smidgen thinner and simply cut into 2-inch by 1 1/ 2-inch cookies.)
3. The next day, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the springerles for 20 minutes; rotating the pans back to front, halfway through baking. Do not let the springerles color. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.
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