Other than one faintly muttered "damn," no swearing occurred while making springerle cookies this year. I used a new recipe, because I located one of the more obscure leavening agents (baker's ammonia, once made from the horns of deer, and found at a local European deli).
I'm not sure why things worked out as well as they did, but the cookies unmolded, and baked beautifully. I only dragged my oven mitt through a couple of them, and that was fine, because it meant that Robb and I got to eat 'em.
This first photograph is the finished product -- pillowy and white, just like they should be.
Over the years, I've managed to find antique wooden cookie molds. They are little works of art, and if you think about it, they're pretty mind-boggling. The image is hand-carved, which is complicated enough, but here's what amazes me: the carver had to essentially carve the image inside-out. They had to carve deepest, where the image would be the tallest. And of course, since they were carving in wood, they really couldn't see what they were doing.
Printmakers and rubber-stamp carvers should be suitably impressed. Everyone else can shrug and wonder why I think this is such a big deal.
I think these are lovely, and keep a few on display in our dining room. Yeah, I've got a thing for hand-made wooden objects.
It is possible to buy resin reproductions of springerle molds, but I don't find them to have the same charm. Also, I've been super-lucky in the past, and found my wooden molds at remarkably good prices.
(If you ever see these little wooden molds at antique stores, send me a photo from your phone, and I might just ask you to buy them for me.)
In one way, I'm non-traditional with these cookies. I flavor them with almond instead of anise. I adore licorice, but I know that many people loathe it. There's no point going to the trouble of making a cookie that nobody wants to eat.
I spent part of my childhood in Austria, and have always thought that Northern Europeans really know how to do Christmas. That's probably why I get so misty-eyed about these cookies. It's not like they're actually part of my childhood memories, but something about really touches a nerve.
Charming, aren't they? This one is a bit more modern (or so I think).
Sadly, the carving of the grapes seems to have been damaged. I wonder if I could smooth it out, or if I would just wreck the mold in my misguided attempts at repair.
Bunny? Cat? Lamb? Darned if I know.
This series of molds seem to have been carved with a dremel-type tool. You can see the work of a rounded carving bit.
A charming castle. One of my fondest memories of living in Austria was spending weekends, doing what our family called "castle climbing." There were an apparently endless number of castles and fortifications open to the public, and we seemed to have explored most of them.
Compare the carving on the veins of the leaves with those on the rose, above. You can see how the carver of this mold dug their knife into the wood, creating a protruding vein. The carver of the rose was far more sophisticated, creating a leaf that curls in space and has more realistic (and far more difficult to carve) veins. Still, this is one of my favorite images.
In years past, the dough has gotten stuck in the molds, causing all sorts of heart-ache. This time, things could not have worked better. I suspect brushing flour into the molds and onto the dough really helped.
I'm almost tempted to try the (vegan) gingerbread recipe. Almost.