This is me officially declaring that it’s time for these cookies to make a comeback. Macarons and cake pops can take a step back.
Today I’ll be outlining a traditional German recipe for Anisgebäck (as we called it in our region), or Springerle. My grandmother shared this recipe with me, and it’s one she got from HER mother. I’m sure my great grandmother got it from someone else in her family, so there’s no telling how old the recipe actually is. Most traditional Anisgebäck recipes are fairly similar, in any case.
The whole process of making Anisgebäck can be counterintuitive for the modern baker. Traditionally there’s no butter involved, and yet it’s not a meringue cookie like a macaroon would be. It’s leavened with baker’s ammonia, which rarely makes appearances in American pantries. Some modern versions are made with baking powder, but personally I prefer to just order baker’s ammonia online and not mess with that works. The cookies rest at room temperature for a full day before baking, and then the baked cookies are aged for anywhere from a week to multiple months. Yep, months. Not many people prepare any food that far ahead of time anymore.
While it’s tempting to skip the aging process, I want to urge you not to give in to that temptation. During aging the anise flavor permeates the cookie and mellows, giving it a very unique taste. It can convert even anise skeptics; I absolutely hate licorice, but I love Anisgebäck. Additionally, the cookie goes from being quite hard to softening and taking on a lovely texture of crisp outside and soft and slightly chewy inside.
I was guilty of ignoring Anisgebäck in favor of simpler recipes, in part because I’m not a big fan of anise in general. However, a few years ago I was in Germany around Christmas time and found myself helping my Oma (grandmother) as she made Anisgebäck. The process involved a ton of positive memories for my Oma, who spoke fondly of inheriting a large hand-carved wooden impression board from her mother. Unfortunately, she’d lost the board in recent years. We improvised some designs at the time, but I tucked away the conversation for later.
I came back to the US, I began an online cookie mold search. I found that a select few people were still making wooden Anisgebäck molds, and eagerly ordered a set for both Oma and myself. The lost board was much larger than the one I gave her to replace it, but she loved it all the same.
For those interested, I ordered my molds from Gene at CookieMold.com. His business is quite old school and you will essentially have to mail-order the molds unless your order is larger, but I assure you it’s worth it even without the convenience of Paypal or similar. The molds I received from Gene were great quality and made lovely cookies. [Update: As of 2016 Gene now accepts PayPal for larger orders!]
TIMING NOTES: Cookies require 1 day to rest and a minimum of 1 week to age.
250g cake flour (plus more for dusting)
250g superfine white sugar (powdered is also okay)
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 tbsp crushed aniseed
1. Using either a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for a minimum of 7 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened to a ribbon stage and significantly lightened. Add the lemon extract and beat for an additional minute.
2. Add the flour and baker’s ammonia and mix to combine. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of saran wrap and wrap it up. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the dough from the fridge and split it into 4 parts. Keep the other parts under the saran wrap when you’re not working with them to prevent crusting. Knead one part of the dough on a floured surface until smooth (the dough will be somewhat sticky).
4. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment and sprinkle the aniseed onto the parchment. Re-flour your surface and roll out the dough to approximately 1/4-1/3″ thickness. You want the cookies to be no more than 1/2″ thick at their highest point after molding. Keep in mind they will puff up quite a bit.
5. Using a fluffy brush, dust the inside of your mold lightly with flour. Tap the mold on your countertop to remove excess flour. At this point, you can dust a very thin layer of flour over the tops of the dough as well. You don’t want any large amount of flour, but if the top of the dough would stick to your rolling pin it will likely also stick to the mold. Using even pressure, press the mold into your cookie dough. Cut around the molded shapes using a fluted pastry cutter, pizza cutter or round/square cutters. Play around with the shapes and see which finish you like most. Place the cookies carefully onto your parchment.
6. Allow the cookies to rest, unbaked, for a minimum of 24 hours. Do not refrigerate and do not cover. You want the cookies to develop a crust so the impression is clean after baking.
7. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 175ºC (350ºF). Bake the springerle for 12-16 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned on the bottom and white on top. (If your cookies are cracking on top, lower the temperature to 160ºC/325ºF).
8. Now it’s time to age the cookies. You may store them in a plastic container with a lid or a cookie tin, but the traditional method is to hang them in a cool place inside of a heavy cloth bag. You’ll want one you can close with a drawstring or similar. You can age them as little as a week or as much as 2 months. To quicken softening, some people hang the cookies outside (with the bag sealed very tightly of course!) for a couple of days before serving. If you are using a sealed container, you can place an apple slice in the container with the cookies to soften them. Be sure to change it every other day or so to prevent molding. The longer they age, the more developed the anise flavor. The cookies will last for half a year stored this way, and for much longer if they are frozen.
You’ll have noticed I enjoy painting my Springerle. There are various methods here, but I’ll give a few tips.
- Paint the cookies before baking, but after they’ve rested and formed a crust. You can paint them after baking, but note that the color may be more prone to coming off on people’s lips when they bite into the cookie.
- The best paint is a mix of powdered or liquid food coloring mixed with either a lemon extract or a relatively flavorless 80 proof or higher liquor. Do not mix with water, as it will soak into the cookies. You want something that will evaporate quickly.
- I mixed some of my colors with a bit of opaque white food coloring, as it looked too transparent otherwise. You can skip this step if you like.
These are delicious with a cup of coffee or tea. Since they are on the dry side, I’ve been known to dip them as well. The lemon and anise flavors meld beautifully and create a really unique taste. I hope you get a chance to try these and change up your annual cookie baking!
IN THIS ENTRY: