Saturday, December 13, 2008

Springerle: Tis the Season for Animal Sacrifice, Fa La La La La La La La La




Is it Julfest?  Already?  Where has the time gone? It feels like just yesterday we were sacrificing glorious animals to Wotan and dancing naked around a fire.

What’s that? You don’t know what the hell I’m talking about and have just finished placing  calls to the local authorities and PETA? No worries. I’m just reminiscing about an age long gone, when pagan Germanic tribes honored their great Nordic gods with a little blood letting and (this is just a hunch) a lot of drinking. And not necessarily in that order.

But don’t think that we’ve given up these little gestures of old school gratitude. At least I haven’t. Because every year I make springerle; that rock hard, beautifully embossed anise laced ceramic tile that passes itself off as a cookie. Look closely. You see that leaping stag? That noble mare? That stately owl? It all seems so innocent stamped on a cookie until you realize that they’re just stand ins for the hard core offering. Due to economic hardship and a slight shift in mores, our Germanic
ancestors spared the animal and stamped the cookie. From lebkuchen to spekulaas to springerle, a pantheon of delicious holiday cookies were born in an effort to please cranky Wotan and take his mind off the fact he wasn’t getting horse carpaccio on his feast day.

If you didn’t have the honor of growing up with springele, I’ll be honest. They’re an acquired taste and require an extra coating of tooth enamel. And if you can’t stomach the flavor, use them as Christmas ornaments. Wotan would approve.

SPRINGERLE
(It kind of goes without saying that you need a springerle mold for this. You can get them online or at lovely shops like Sur La Table)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons whole milk
6 large eggs, room temperature
6 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting and surface
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anise extract
9 cups sifted all purpose flour, plus more for dusting and surface
Corn starch for dusting the springerle mold


Dissolve baking powder in milk in a small bowl. Whisk eggs with a mixer on high speed until thick and pale. With mixer on lowest setting slowly add sugar, beating until smooth and creamy. Add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in milk mixture, salt and anise extract until just combined.

Reduce speed to medium-low. Add flour one cup at a time. This can get tricky. Because (1) it’s a ton of flour and won’t fully incorporate if you just mix it with the mixer and (2) there’s so much flour that the strain could kill your mixer. So remove bowl from mixer when it’s starting to look incorporated. And then dump the lot onto a floured table and kneed the dough until its smooth and stiff.,

Divide dough into 3 pieces.

Dust surface and springerle mold with cornstarch. Roll out 1 disk of dough at a time to a 1/4- to 3/8-inch thickness (deeper molds will need thicker dough). Roll your springerle pin along the dough with a lot of pressure. You may sweat a little. That’s normal. And after a pass, you may have to dust your mold again with more cornstarch to keep it from sticking. If you’re using a single form mold, just press down hard and then cut around the natural lines. With a rolling pin springerle, just carefully cut each cookie with a very sharp knife.

Place the springerle on a parchment lined pan and allow to rest overnight. This allows the top of the cookie to dry out a bit and the beautiful indentation to keep all the detail in the hot oven. Bake at 200 for about an hour. Make sure that the cookies don’t color. You essentially want them to dry out and not take on any browning.

And enjoy! If it’s good enough for Wotan….