Share in this 500-year-old holiday cookie tradition courtesy of our friends at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. Not only is the flavor simple and wonderful, but the combination of the stunning molds used to make the forms of the cookies and the hand-painted details makes each cookie a work of art!
Text + Recipe by Pam Friedler with Deanna Berkemeier + Photography by Goor Studio
We call these cookies, "House on the Hill Perfection Springerle Cookies". These whisked-egg holiday cookies date back to at least the 1600s and were made in Bavaria, Switzerland, and the Alsace area of France. This recipe is just perfection for flavor, ease, and print quality. Historically, springerle were anise flavored. Anise seeds were scattered on the cookie sheet and the molded dough was placed on the seeds to dry before baking.
Springerle is a type of molded cookie that has been prepared for hundreds of years. Some of the earliest springerle molds found in Switzerland date back as far as the 14th century. The molds used to make springerle were usually carved from wood or made of clay or metal. Some of the earliest images portrayed in springerle were Biblical scenes, and they were used to educate those who couldn't read or write.
Eventually, other scenes were carved, and the cookies soon reflected images of holidays, events, and scenes from everyday life. The cookies were also used to celebrate births, weddings, and used as betrothal tokens. Exchanging Springerle during the holidays was a common practice very much like we exchange cards today.
Springerle are delightful cookies that take about three days to make and the outcome is a splendidly embossed, tasty cookie that is lightly crisp outside and wonderfully soft inside. Once the cookies are molded, they must be left uncovered for 12 to 24 hours to set a crisp crust with a sharp, clear imprint that holds when baked.
Traditionally flavored with anise, one 1787 receipt (recipe) we have that was translated into English from the original German has the dough laid on top of a pan strewn with anise seeds as the flavoring. These days the flavor possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the wide variety of flavoring oils available on the market. Springerle can be stored up to three months in an airtight container, where the flavor will continue to develop over time.
At Genesee Country Village & Museum, we strive for historical accuracy, therefore we have chosen to use a recipe that dates back to the 1600s but has been slightly altered to account for modern changes in flour milling and the fact that we no longer must pound our sugar from a solid loaf.
This recipe, from House on the Hill called “Perfection Springerle,” calls for a leavening agent called hartshorn or baker’s ammonia, aka ammonium carbonate. Hartshorn is a form of ammonia and gives the raw dough a distinct ammonia flavor that will completely disappear upon baking. Hartshorn produces the “spring” (leavening) that helps the cookie keep its delicate internal texture while retaining its crisp embossed top. You can always substitute an equal amount of baking powder for the hartshorn if you need to, but it is readily available online.
When painting the springerle, always mix your color with an alcohol, such as triple sec. Do not use water as it will soak into the cookie, whereas the alcohol will evaporate quickly and leave the surface dry. We paint them with powdered or very finely ground historical food coloring agents, such as beetroot, spinach, black walnut, turmeric, annatto, cinnamon, and cochineal, by mixing the powder with a small amount of triple sec. Most of these, in addition to powdered blueberry, tomato, pumpkin, and more, can readily be purchased online. You can also use the triple sec with modern gel food colors to paint the cookie.
About Genesee Country Village and Museum
Genesee Country Village and Museum is the largest living history museum in New York, the third-largest in the country, and was founded with the goal of preserving and sharing architecture of the Genesee region with a focus on life in the 19th century. The founder of the Museum, the late John L. (Jack) Wehle, envisioned a museum village of authentic examples of 19th-century Genesee Country architecture, showcasing the art of typical village artisans. Beginning in 1966, buildings of the style, type, and function found in the rural communities of Western New York State were acquired and reconstructed in the configuration of an early Genesee Country hamlet. Genesee Country Village and Museum opened to the public in 1976 and eventually grew to 68 historic buildings, including a working 19th-century brewery. The Museum also includes the John
L. Wehle Gallery, which houses a world-renowned collection of wildlife and sporting art, and the exquisite Susan Greene Costume Collection, composed of 3,500 rare 19th-century garments and accessories. The Museum is also home to a Nature Center with over five miles of trails and a vintage baseball stadium, hosting
a full season of games. All year long, GCV&M runs a robust season of classes, events, and special programs. The Museum is located 20 miles southwest of Rochester and 50 miles from Buffalo.
MAKES 3 TO 12 DOZEN COOKIES
1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (hartshorn) or baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
6 large eggs, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon anise oil
2-pound box sifted cake flour (Swansdown or Softasilk)
grated rind of orange or lemon, optional (enhances flavor of traditional anise or citrus flavors)
more flour as needed
- To make the dough, dissolve hartshorn in milk and set aside for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored (10 to 20 minutes).
- Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the softened butter. Add the hartshorn and milk, salt, preferred flavoring, and grated rind of lemon or orange, if desired.
- Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in the remainder of the 2 pounds of flour to make a stiff dough.
- Turn onto floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking. Wrap dough tight in plastic wrap or zipper bag and refrigerate overnight.
- To make the cookies, on a floured surface, roll dough into a flat pancake approximately 3⁄8 -inch thick. Roll thinner or thicker dough based on the depth of the carving in the cookie press you are using. Shallow carvings will need thinner dough, while deeper carvings will need thicker dough.
- Flour your cookie mold for each and every pressing. Press the mold firmly and straight down into the dough.
- Then lift, cut, and place the formed cookie onto a parchment- lined cookie sheet.
- Do not cover the cookies while they dry. The goal of drying is to set the design. Let the cookies dry at least 12 hours; 24 hours is best. Larger cookies and warm humid weather may require longer drying times. Cookies that are not dried long enough will not retain the beautiful designs, but will taste fine.
- Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets at 255°F to 300°F until barely golden on the bottom for 10 to 15 minutes or more, depending on the size of the cookie.
- Store in airtight containers or in zipper bags in the freezer. They keep for months, and improve with age.
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