I can’t think of more beautiful cookies than these speculaas and springerle cookies for the Christmas season. These European cookies, made with wooden molds have been made since the 15th century and something truly special. Here’s a step by step how-to for each!
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been baking up a storm! For many years I’ve wanted to try my hand at making speculaas and springerle cookies. These old European cookies require wooden molds that are not usually found in your basic stores. They are very detailed and the process can be long, so I’ve always been a bit intimidated to make them. When my sweet friend, Samantha from Tuckamore Homestead asked if I’d like her to send me a mold from her beautiful shop, I couldn’t resist! I knew this was the year to give them a try and I’m so glad I did. I don’t know what I was so afraid of!
After having great success with them, I thought they would be perfect to share in today’s Christmas cookie exchange. If you’re visiting from Pasha Is Home, welcome! Doesn’t her gingersnap recipe look delish? You’ll find so many yummy cookies recipes for the holidays in this cookie exchange! I for one can’t wait to give them all a try.
Let me preface this by saying, I love to bake. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, right along with decorating. I have a natural passion for both, so there wasn’t any pressure to make these cookies. This time of year can be so busy and stressful. If baking isn’t something that you just love doing, you might want to skip these cookies. They are quite time consuming, not something I would recommend if you need them in a pinch. With that said, if you love the whole process of baking, these are for you. Let’s dive in friends!
Wooden Cookie Molds
To make traditional speculaas and springerle cookies, you’ll want special wooden molds with a pretty image. House On The Hill is one of the biggest manufactures of these molds in the U.S.. Tuckamore Homestead carries a number of their pretty molds, including this large acorn & Christmas tree mold that I used. The detailing on these molds are stunning! I also love the 12 Days of Christmas molds that she sells.
Using different sizes and shapes of molds make for a great cookie arrangement, especially if you’re making them as a gift for teachers, family and friends.
Speculaas are a staple during the Christmas season in the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Germany. They’re a crispy spiced cookie that is made with the wooden molds and then cut out with a cookie cutter or sharp knife. They’re similar to gingerbread. I love that they’re not overly sweet like some holiday cookies. These make for great coffee dunking cookies!
My dear friend Pam (who I claim as my adopted grandmother) taught me a little trick that I found helpful when rolling out this cookie dough. Use two wooden dowels the same thickness that your dough needs to be and lay them on each side of your dough. The rolling pin will roll right over them and it will result in the perfect dough thickness every time!
This speculaas recipe is a Martha Stewart recipe. It is a fairly dry and stiff dough, but I’m not sure why some people in comment section had trouble with it. It worked very well for me, both times that I made it. It’s a dryer dough, but from what I’ve read, that seems to be the nature of these cookies. The key to this dough holding its image while baking, is keeping the dough cold right up until they go in the oven. I did make a couple changes to Martha’s recipe. I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown for a deeper flavor and I refrigerated my dough over-night.
I found that it’s easiest to work with small amounts of dough at one time. I used a round cookie/biscuit cutter to cut my cookies from the rest of the dough, once pressed. A scalloped cookie cutter would be beautiful to use if you have one.
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. ground mace
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
- 1/3 cup water
Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, white pepper, and cloves in a large bowl.
Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy in a mixer with paddle attachment. Beat in half the flour mixture. Beat in water, then remaining flour mixture. Shape into 3 disks. Pat each to a 1-inch thickness, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour or over-night.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Lightly dust countertop and springerle molds with confectioners' sugar or all-purpose flour. Roll out dough to a 1/4- to 3/8-inch thickness (deeper molds will need thicker dough). Press mold firmly into rolled dough. I gave it several really good presses to be sure all the details showed up well. (This dough can be stiff, so you may need to let it rest on your counter for a few minutes to make rolling and pressing a little easier. Gently coax the mold off of the rolled dough with fingertips. Use a sharp knife or cookie cutter to cut out pressed cookies and place onto a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Repeat, spacing cookies 1 inch apart, and placing same-size cookies on same sheet. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
Place 1 sheet of cookies in oven, and immediately reduce temperature to 250 degrees. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are set and just beginning to turn light gold around edges, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.
Store in an air-tight container.
Instead of taking time to decorate them after they bake, most of the time is spent pressing and cutting out. With that in mind, I’m not so sure that speculaas take anymore time to make than an iced sugar cookie. That’s not quite the case for our next cookie recipe, springerle.
Traditional Springerle Cookies
This was also my first time making springerle cookies. I’ve had them in the past and always enjoyed them, but making them myself was another story. This year I decided to try something new in the kitchen, so I went for it. After a little research I found out that springerle cookies are German and originated in the 15th century. They were originally baked to honor church holy days, but have become mainly known as a Christmas cookie. What I love about these cookies, aside from their light texture and lemon flavor, is that they hold their pressed image amazingly well! Each cookies I pressed and baked turned out beautifully!
These cookies do take a considerable amount of time. Once the dough is made, it has to be refrigerated. Afterward it can be rolled out and pressed. Once pressed, they will need to “dry” on a cookie sheet with parchment paper for 24-30 hours at room temperature. I draped mine with a light tea towel and left on my counter over-night and all day the next day. You’ll know they’re ready to bake by looking at the bottom of the cookies. When ready, they’ll have a light ring, or “halo” as bakers call it, in the center of the cookie. Once you see this, they’re ready to bake.
Keep an eye on them in the oven. You can easily over bake them as I did the first time. I kept looking at the sides of the cookie for a golden color. I should have been checking the bottoms. If they over bake, they can get too hard around the edges to eat.
When baked properly, they’re a real treat! The grated lemon really adds a freshness to these light cookies.
Traditional Springerle Cookies
- 1/2 tsp. baker’s ammonia (Hartshorn) or baking powder
- 2 tbsp. milk
- 6 lg. eggs, room temperature
- 6 cup powdered sugar (1 1/2 #)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. anise oil (if substituting fruit flavored oils, use 3-4 teaspoons)
- 2 lbs. sifted cake flour (Swansdown or Softasilk)
- grated rind of orange or lemon – optional (enhances flavor of the traditional anise or the citrus flavors)
- more flour as needed for dusting
Dissolve hartshorn in milk and set aside. Beat eggs till thick and lemon-colored (10-20 minutes). Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the softened butter. Add the hartshorn and milk, salt, preferred flavoring, and grated rind of lemon or orange, if desired. Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in the remainder of the 2 lbs. of flour to make stiff dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking.
It is not required, but I find the dough easier to work with when I refrigerate it for 8 hours before printing the cookies. (Refrigerating the dough is particularly helpful in humid conditions.) Seal the dough tightly in zippered plastic bags and in a sealed container so the dough does not dry out. The liquid ingredients absorb into the flour making it less sticky. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days.
On a floured surface, roll dough into a flat pancake approximately 1/2 inch thick. Roll thinner or thicker based on the depth of the carving in the cookie press you are using. Shallow carvings will need to be thinner while deeper carvings will need to be thicker. Flour your cookie mold for each and every pressing. Press the mold firmly and straight down into the dough, then lift, cut and place the formed cookie onto a flat surface to dry. (I like to put the formed cookies directly onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, but you may put them on a countertop or tabletop covered with flour sack cloths if you do not have enough cookie sheets.)
Do not cover the cookies while they dry. The goal of drying is to set the design. Let the cookies dry at least 12 hours, but you will loose clearness of design. Best is a 24 hour drying period before baking to get a clean print after baking. Larger cookies and warm humid weather may require longer drying times. Cookies that are not dried long enough will not retain the beautiful designs, but will taste fine.
Bake on greased or baker’s parchment-lined cookie sheets at 255° to 325° till barely golden on the bottom, 10-15 minutes or more, depending on size of cookie. See Baking Times chart below for suggested baking times and temperatures. (I set my oven at 255.)
Store in airtight containers or in zipper bags in the freezer. Cookie stored in tins in a cool dry conditions are best in my opinion. Tins seal but allow a slight amount of air circulation. Springerle keep for months, and anise flavor Springerle improve with age. Orange and lemon and almond flavors have a fully develop flavor when they are baked and cooled. Yield 3 to 12 dozen. Yields vary greatly depending on the cookie presses you use.
Shortbread Springerle Cookies
Similar to the flavor of springerle cookies, this short bread version is light with a touch of fresh lemon, but with the texture of short bread. These cookies do not require any “dry” time, so they don’t take quite as much time to make. Charlie loved all of these cookies, but especially this one. They’re very kid friendly. The only down side to these is that they do not hold they shape quite as well as springerle cookies or speculaas. The small fine details tend to get lost, however, the larger detailed and deeper molds work well.
The original recipe was from King Arthur flour. I kept the recipe very close to the original, but added lemon extract (or the vest of 1 lemon) and a dash of anise oil. I found that it punched up the flavor just a bit. I also opted to use my wooden molds instead of a springerle pin that King Arthur calls for. Again, baking cold dough will result in the best image on your baked cookie. These shortbread cookies are no exception to that.
Shortbread Springerle Cookies
- 16 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 lg. egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. lemon extract
- 1/4 tsp. anise oil
- 3 cups all-purpose, unbleached King Arthur flour
Using a mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugars, and salt until light and creamy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, and fold in the flour.
Divide the dough in half, shape both halves into disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Working with one disk at a time, flour your work surface and roll the dough 1/4" thick.
To shape cookies using a springerle pin: Brush a very light coating of flour onto your molds. Firmly press into the dough, pressing down hard enough to leave a good impression. Cut the cookies apart on the lines with a knife or a fluted pastry wheel.
Transfer the cut cookies to a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly golden around the edges. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan.
Each of these cookies are such a treat to see and eat. They would make such a beautiful and delicious gift this holiday season! Charlie and two buddies where standing around the island as the were cooling. Their little 8 and 9 year old eyes wide, waiting for me to give them the okay to eat one. Of course I told them, “eat the ugly ones first!” I’m happy to report, each of these recipes is kid approved!
Just remember friends, resist the pressure to do things this Christmas season that you don’t truly enjoy. Sometimes all of the festive activities begin to feel more like obligations and there’s no joy in that, but case you’re like me, and you’re looking for something new, these cookies are such a great tradition to start! I began the dough for each of these recipes on a week night that I had nothing going on. I cranked up the Christmas music and started the mixer. Over the next two days I rolled out the dough as I had time and I found so much joy in the process.
I hope you all have a safe and wonderful Christmas season! Be sure to hop over to our host, Aliya’s blog, Open Doors Open Hearts for your next delicious cookie recipe and happy baking friends!