German New Year’s Cookies (Springerle)

Springerle are a type of traditional German cookie dating back at least to the 15th century. This particular recipe is from the 1861 American cookbook The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia. Although the recipe is simply titled “German New Year’s Cookies,” several details such as the use of hartshorn, anise seed, wooden molds, and drying the cookies for 24 hours before baking clearly identify these as classic Springerle.

Although I wasn’t able to find a definitive explanation for the name “Springerle”, it’s possible that it either refers to the way the cookies “spring up” in the oven, or is a reference to a leaping horse, which was a popular mold design. Springerle are traditionally stamped with elaborately carved wooden molds. Nowadays, in addition to wooden or resin molds, many people use carved rolling pins instead. You can find a variety of molds and rolling pins online by searching for either Springerle or gingerbread molds; I got mine from Springerle Traditions on Etsy.

My Springerle mold; this is a resin copy of a traditional design.

Like other traditional Springerle recipes, this recipe calls for hartshorn. Hartshorn was a powder literally made from hart’s horn – or in other words, the antlers of red deer. When heated, hartshorn released ammonia and carbon dioxide gases, which would help baked goods rise. Today, you can use baker’s ammonia as a substitute.

German New Year’s Cookies:

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 pound sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 pound flour, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp baker’s ammonia
  • Anise or caraway seeds
  1. With a whisk attachment on a stand mixer, beat eggs for about 4-5 minutes, until foamy.
  2. Keep beating while gradually adding the sugar.
  3. Add the lemon juice, then beat for an additional 10 minutes.
  4. Gradually mix in the flour and lemon zest, using the paddle attachment once it gets too stiff for the whisk attachment. Once all the flour is mixed in, beat for at least another 5 minutes.
  5. Knead the dough into a ball. It should be about the consistency of play-dough; soft, but not sticky. If too stiff, add a little more beaten egg; if too wet, add more flour.
  6. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours.
  7. Roll out about 1/3 of an inch thick.
  8. Thoroughly flour the surfaces of the molds.
  9. Press the molds down firmly on the dough, then cut out the shapes using a fluted pastry wheel.
  10. Spread the anise or caraway seeds on a baking sheet, then lay the cookies on top of them.
  11. Let dry from 24 to 48 hours in a cool place.
  12. Lightly press the bottom of each cookie on a damp towel, then bake at 250 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. The cookies should be slightly browned on the bottom, but still pale on top.
Springerle ready to dry

Tasting notes:

Considering that this was my first time baking Springerle, I think they came out fairly well – but unfortunately, not all of them were perfect. Even though I let my cookies dry for a full 48 hours before baking, most of them were still not dry enough, which resulted in the stamped designs blurring when baked. I think my dough might have been too wet to begin with; the eggs I used were probably larger than the eggs used in the original 1860s recipe. If I were to make this again, I would take out some of the egg before adding the other ingredients, then only add it back in if needed.

Still, although the designs on most of my cookies faded, they do still taste good. I made some with anise seed and some with caraway, and was surprised to find that I liked the anise seed better. The strong flavor of the anise blends well with the sweetness of the cookies. I didn’t taste the lemon very strongly, so if you like lemon you could add more juice and zest.

Traditionally, Springerle should be stored in airtight containers with a slice of apple, changing out the apple every few days to keep it from going bad. Springerle are very hard when first baked, so the apple slice helps add moisture. They are supposed to be at their best after about 3 weeks; I am writing this after about 1 week and I can confirm that so far, they have become softer and more flavorful with each day. The original recipe claims that they will keep for an entire year – but I’m not sure if I want to wait that long to find out!

References:

Atlas Obscura. (2021). Hartshorn. https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/hartshorn

Davidson, A. (2006). Springerle. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (p. 750). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haskell, E.F. (1861). The housekeeper’s encyclopedia. New York: D. Appleton and Company. https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/hearth6060126

3 thoughts on “German New Year’s Cookies (Springerle)

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