My most favorite Christmas cookie is the polarizing Springerle cookie; you either love them or you hate them. You tend to like them if you like the flavor of anise and black licorice. If not, they typically aren’t for you.
I refer to Springerle as an old-fashioned cookie because of two of the ingredients used: anise oil and bakers ammonia. Both ingredients are very hard to find and can be quite pricey. My mother would need to special order these two ingredients from the pharmacy in the small Iowa town I grew up in. I order mine online from King Arthur Flour.
Bakers ammonia, also know as ammonium carbonate or hartshorn, quickly becomes gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide when heated which is why it makes a great leveling agent. It is the predecessor to the more modern leveling agents of baking soda and baking powder.
Springerle cookies were the first Christmas cookies my mother would make each year. This is because springerle cookies should age a few weeks in order for them to develop their unique hardness. This also allows the flavor of the anise to mellow. Done correctly, these cookies will remain light and airy though harder than most cookies. You may bake these cookies closer to Christmas if you prefer a softer cookie. You can also place a slice of soft bread in the storage container.
Here is the recipe handed down to me from my mother:
1 Pound powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon water
½ Teaspoon anise oil
¾ Teaspoon bakers ammonia
½ Teaspoon salt
4 (1 pound 1 ounce) Cups all-purpose flour
Mix all ingredients, except flour, together and beat one-half hour at the number 5 or medium speed in stand mixer. Gradually add flour to form a stiff dough. If too loose or sticky, add more flour no more than a tablespoon at a time. Turn dough out on cold surface and roll out to about ¼ inch thick with standard rolling pin. Next use pattern springerle rolling to imprint design into dough. Cut dough apart following horizontal and vertical lines imprinted by rolling pin. Move cut cookies to a cool room and let stand overnight or at least eight hours.
After aging the cookie dough, pre-heat oven to 325° F. Grease a cookie sheet with shortening. One by one, place a small drop of water on the under side of each cookie and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies will puff up and the bottoms will slightly brown. The tops will remain somewhat pale.
Notes: I like to roll my cookies out on a very well chilled marble cutting board. This allows me to work with a smaller amount of dough and to cool the cutting surface down. My directions call for aging the cookies overnight in a cool room. A cool room would be a room that is between 50 to 60 degrees or so. Do not place in a refrigerator as you want some air circulation. A refrigerator may cause condensation to form on the cookies.