Religious based celebration was not a big part of the society in which I grew up, but we were not short of opportunity to celebrate by any means; we celebrated the Constitution day, the Day of all working class people in the world, aka May Day, Mother's Day and everyone's (especially children's) favourite, New Year!
The exemption to that rule was Easter for some reason. It was not recognised as an official bank holiday, but hardly any family would go without having red painted eggs on the table that day. Very few families would however quietly mark Christmas, and only the old generation would go to the church.
The trees were decorated to celebrate New Year, presents exchange and family gatherings were on the 1st January, so the majority of my generation grew up to become athiest, getting a chance to celebrate Christmas for the first time in their late twenties, or early thirties. Little by little Christmas got it's rightful place in our lives, for some it had newly found religious significance, for many it became a way to preserve and celebrate one's heritage and tradition.
During those years, a large number of people left the country and became what is today known as economic migrants, Germany and Austria being their preferred destinations. Longing to see their families and friends after months of hard work and with desire to share and do a bit of a "showing off" of their financial success and new life style, they would come back home every bank holiday. Sometimes they brought back things that gave us a glimpse of Christmas in the Western world that we only had a chance to see in glossy magazines.
I may seem to be rambling about my childhood, but not to worry friends, it's not without reason! A few weeks ago on page 39 of Boutique Baking, I met with my childhood in the form of a pretty heart-shaped white cookie, that I got from Germany for Christmas as a little girl. I never knew that something as insignificant as a biscuit could make you feel a bit overwhelmed.
The softy in me joined forces with "Me, the Baker" and after a few weeks of searching for moulds and Hartshorn salt (a raising agent known as baker's ammonia without which - although it could be replaced with baking powder - the cookies are not the same) and learning about the history behind "Springerle" on the way, I proudly present you with maybe not the testiest but surely the prettiest cookies out there. You can keep them in an airtight container for about a month, but if used for decorative purposes, they last for months.
Makes about 20 cookies
The dough should be made couple of days before baking
380 gr icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon Hartshorn salt ( baking powder)
500 gr plain flour
50 gr salted soft butter
1 tablespoon milk
zest of 1 lemon
Dissolve the Hartshorn salt in milk and set aside (the smell of ammonia will disappear).
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until thick, then add the icing sugar, lemon zest and butter in small pieces. Combine with Hartshorn salt and mix until smooth and well combined, then add the flour, little by little, until you get a light and smooth, but not sticky texture.
When ready for baking, I would test bake it, as the recommended 225 C did not work with my oven. In order to get a slightly brown bottom and white top I baked them on 180 C for 15 minutes, swapping shelves and turning the tray every five minutes. The base will puff up, while the top will remain in perfect moulded shape. Leave them uncovered overnight, then store.
To decorate your Christmas tree, make a hole at the top when cutting out.