If you are intrigued with self-frosting Anise Platzchen, the light and crisp anise-flavored German cookies, then you may just fall in love again with springerle (SPRING-ur-luh), a traditional European cookie that is often spiced with anise.
Originating in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, springerle are most abundant during the winter holidays. Tender pillowy springerle are made by home bakers several weeks ahead of their debut and then stashed away in airtight tins for the flavors to mellow and deepen. Pfeffernüsse, spicy cookie balls, often share the cellar space. Springerle are now popular year round at weddings and celebrations often with intricate designs of hearts, wreathes, and flowers and may be flavored with citrus rinds and oils.
Original springerle molds were hand carved from wood with some dating back to the 1600’s. Modern techniques capture well-used antique carvings complete with their dings and cracks using resin-based wood materials to cast the designs.
Fruits, animals, and working people are often pictured on springerle molds. Some carved wooden presses depict a single scene. Others display several designs on a single flat board. Bakers who make large batches of these cookies often use carved rolling pins weighted accordingly to help ensure even thickness as the pin is rolled over the soft dough while stamping the designs.
If available, use baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate) which is also referred to as hartshorn. If you can’t find it, use baking powder. While baker’s ammonia imparts a lighter crispness to the cookies than baking powder, the difference in springerle is not a big deal. Keep the baker’s ammonia in an airtight container – and tighten the lid well for the leaven quickly evaporates.
The long beating time for the eggs in this recipe incorporates air to keep the cookies light. A stand mixer for this purpose is a real plus; a hand-held mixer can also be used (just takes longer). Cake flour is gently combined in using the mixer with the last bit of it kneaded into the dough by hand.
The dough is easy to roll and cut. If using a springerle rolling pin, size the dough at least a couple of inches wider than the rolling pin to optimize stamping the designs. If using individual molds or cookie stamps, manage the dough by rolling out smaller pieces; cover the waiting pieces with a towel. Dry the cut springerle on uncovered cookie sheets for 12 hours or overnight (preferable). Springerle is baked at a lower oven temperature to minimize puffing, browning, and helps keep the designs intact.
The anise in springerle becomes becomes slightly more pronounced as the cookies age. Use a generous 1/2 teaspoon anise oil for a stronger flavor. Cookie stamps and punch-out cookie cutters make very pretty springerle, too!
- 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (also known as hartshorn or ammonium carbonate) or baking powder
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 6 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon non-idodized salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 1/2 teaspoon anise oil or 1 tablespoon citrus-flavored oil
- 2 pounds cake flour
- all-purpose flour for kneading and rolling
- Make dough: in a small bowl, dissolve baker’s ammonia or baking powder in the milk; set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat eggs on medium-high until thick and lemon-colored, about 15-25 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in powdered sugar, then add softened butter; mix well.
- Add baker’s ammonia or baking powder dissolved in milk, salt (if using), and anise or other flavored oils. Continue mixing on low speed and gradually beat in as much of the cake flour as possible.
- Turn dough onto a dry clean lightly-floured surface and knead in as much cake flour necessary to make a dough that is smooth no longer sticky. Not use all of the cake flour may be used.
- Mold and cut cookies: if using individual cookie stamps or cutters or springerle molds, make the dough more manageable by rolling out a portion of the dough at a time. Cover the pieces not being rolled with a dry clean kitchen towel. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into 3/8 – 1/2 inch thickness. Flour molds or springerle rolling pin before using. For individual molds, press down firmly and evenly, then lift mold straight up. If using springerle rolling pin, press firmly and evenly while slowly rolling pin. Cut cookies apart before placing on cookie sheet 1 1/2″ apart to dry, uncovered, for 12-24 hours. Repeat with dough scraps.
- Preheat oven to 275ºF and bake: center 1-2 oven racks near the center of the oven. Bake cookies for 10-20 minutes depending on size and thickness of cookies. Bottoms of cookies should be lightly brown and edges barely golden; try not to let tops take on color. Halfway through baking, rotate cookie sheet front to back. If baking more than one sheet at a time, rotate sheets top to bottom in addition to front to back. Remove sheets from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then using an offset spatula, gently remove cookies to drying racks.
- Cool and store: when cool, store in airtight tins separating layers with wax or parchment paper. The cookies soften and mellow with age. Keeps for 1-2 months.