Monday, November 30, 2009

The feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6. This year his feast falls on the second Sunday of Advent

Santa Claus: we all know he is really—originally—St. Nicholas, the holy bishop of Myra (now in Turkey) in the 4th century. St. Nicholas is one of those saints with many charming legends. You can see and hear his story told on-line; the story is taken from The Golden Legend—a famous medieval compilation of saints’ lives. (You’ll need Quicktime on your computer to play the story; this program is easy to download.)
(This is from a performance website that I co-direct called “Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase”; my dear friend and former student Jenn Jordan is the excellent performer and the artist as well.)

To honor St. Nicholas, let’s start baking Springerle cookies: they are so delicious, and you make them in molds in a variety of beautiful shapes. (The word Springerle comes from the vaulting or jumping animal shapes in which they were often made.) The recipe, drawn from A Continual Feast, is below. You may be able to find molds in a local kitchen shop—or you can order them from The House on the Hill:
Here are their St. Nicholas molds:
And just take a look at all their Christmas molds!

Springerles Recipe
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
Grated rind of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 ½-4 cups flour
¾ cup anise seeds

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the salt and the lemon rind. Add the baking powder, and sift in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough is fairly stiff and doesn’t stick to your hands.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough is soft and shiny, 5 to 10 minutes. Roll the dough out to a thickness of ¼ inch. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Flour the mold well. Press is down on the dough, pressing firmly all around. (If there are a few little cookie images that I especially like, I sometimes just press the dough into those, one at a time, to get the image in all its detail.)
Cut the cookies apart. Place them on a baking sheet that has been lightly buttered and sprinkled with anise seeds. Let the cookies sit overnight, lightly covered with a clean dishtowel.
Bake at 300 F for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a very pale golden color. Do not let them brown!
These cookies will keep for a long time—they just get harder. If you like them soft, pack with them in the cookie tin a piece of apple, or of rye bread, replacing the apple or bread from time to time.
Optional: if you want, you can paint the Springerles with tinted icing (recipe in A Continual Feast, p. 104), but they are beautiful just as they are

If your family does not care for the flavor of anise, you can replace it with more lemon rind and/or some orange rind, or with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this delicious recipe! Indeed, there are many (folk) traditions connected with St Nicholas all over the world - as children we put shoes into the window and St Nicholas would bring oranges, dried figs, nuts and almonds for the good kinds; his companion "Krampus" (the devil) would bring tiny sticks for those of us who had been a bit naughty...
    On a fresco in a medieval Croatian church, showing St Nicholas giving gold to the poor young girls, somebody scribbled a graffito in the 15th c. in Glagolitic script: "St Nicholas, give a dime to me too, please!"