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October 13, 2008

Hot cookies
Posted by Teresa at 02:21 AM *

Away with all those forgettable “snowman, candy cane, Christmas tree, gingerbread man” cookie cutters! What you need is an 18th C. cookie mold more than nine inches across, showing Elijah being carried off in his chariot, Elisha being mocked by the disobedient children of Bethel, and, right there in the foreground, a disobedient child being eaten by a bear. That’s putting the old-time religion back into Christmas, you betcha.

You can get the Elisha & Elijah cookie mold from House on the Hill, which sells nifty reproductions of all kinds of antique Mitteleuropean molds.* Your gingerbread man can be the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705), who reputedly had the amiable habit of commissioning portraits of himself in gingerbread to give away to his subjects. Other accounts say it was Emperor Frederick III who did that, in 1487. (Maybe they both did it. Free gingerbread is never a bad idea.) If eating a fully togged-out Habsburg is too much for you, you can eat Martin Luther’s head, or just munch on a baby.

Humans have an irrepressible tendency to turn media of exchange into channels for communication.

And while we’re at it, let’s do away with that demoralizing moment when the cookie recipient turns the thing from side to side, peering at it, and asks what it’s supposed to be. Farewell, ill-advised teddy bears and clumsily decorated sleighs! Now, when the recipient is confused, you can give them unexpectedly new and interesting answers: it’s Shakespeare, Pentecost, Epiphany, a 1510 folk-art Book of Revelations, a Biedermeier mermaid, laundry day, the King of Acorns, Punch and Judy, a baroque owl, a wild sow with piglets, a spiral nautilus, a couple of musicians hanging out by a fountain, the Resurrection of Christ, and some guy with antlers riding on a rooster. Also, optionally, saints Cecelia, Martin, John the Evangelist, George (with Dragon), Peter in Chains, and St. Paul and Silas in prison, plus Saint Nicholas about a dozen times over. It’s worth it just to dumbfound the “Xmas is a conspiracy” crowd.

On a side note, I observe that the people who made the original cookie molds appear to have had a larger set of coy explanations for where babies come from than we have today. The stork gets his due airing, but babies are also allegedly delivered by angels, who grow them in their gardens, or catch them in nets when they’re out boating. The most engaging theory is that babies grow on trees (note the different stages of ripeness). When they’re ready to pick, the father shakes the tree, and the ripe baby drops off and is caught in its mother’s apron.

Compare that with one of the illustrations on this interesting springerle mold, in the Mildred E. Jenson collection, in which it is revealed that husbands also grow on trees. The young ladies are giving the tree a good shaking, but the husbands hanging from it are undersized, and look scared. The other illustrations on that same springerle board show a spinster, a virgin martyr, and a burning heart; so perhaps it was the the pre-literacy equivalent of a career counseling pamphlet for girls.

The other really interesting cookie molds illustrating the reproductive cycle (if you don’t count their strikingly underdressed Adam and Eve) are the ones that form the component pieces for 3D models. One of them makes a swaddled infant in a cradle. If I read the parts correctly, the other makes a detailed miniature house which, if munched open, turns out to contain a newlywed couple in bed.*

For more info about springerle, speculaas, shortbread, gingerbread, marzipan, and other elaborately molded confectionery, start with Gene Wilson’s Cookie Mold Site. Move from there to Ken Hamilton, the Springerle Baker, who has recipes, directions for using moldboards, the works. One of his sub-pages is a gallery of antique molds that came over with German immigrants, dating from the 17th to 20th century. All of them are interesting, but the Mildred E. Jenson collection is three pages long, and a must-see. The other noncommercial gallery of antique molds is the Thomas Collection of Cookie and Cake Boards. ITC Web Designs is a German firm that offers a great diversity of designs carefully duplicated from antique cookie molds, and also new molds in traditional styles. Firma König - Springerle Model is working in the same vein as ITC Web Designs, but they’re even more German—as in, their site’s not in English. Go ahead, be adventurous. They have some very cool molds.*

[Recipe Index]

Comments on Hot cookies:
#1 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 02:36 AM:

I love these things-I never have had much luck making them though-they always seem to stick to the mold. Thanks for the links.

#2 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 03:13 AM:

As you sure the guy on the rooster isn't a cuckold riding a cock (oh, how suggestive *that* is!)?

#3 ::: C. S. Inman ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 04:35 AM:

I suppose it's late in the season and all the good husbands have been taken. I'll just pick up the ground husbands, cut out the worms, and make do.

#4 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 04:41 AM:

That Elijah mold is the business. My choir is singing "Elijah" in February and is having a bake-sale fund raiser. Hmmmm. $65 + UK shipping is probably prohibitive but I'm so tempted.

#5 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 05:20 AM:

Readers in the UK can get a glimpse of German Christmas foods at the Lidl chain. The gingerbread may not be so fancifully decorated, but it makes a nice change from high-stacked mince pies and fake stockings containing Christmas-packaged versions of the standard British tooth-rotting confectionary.

And should I fantasise about mesh stockings, I reserve the right to imagine fillings other than cheap chocolate.

#6 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 06:30 AM:

The fun bit about the Elijah-and-the-bears story is how specific it is. How many youths? 42. What kind of bears? Female ones. Where? In Bethel.

Perhaps the Bible in those days had an irate editor who demanded to know the details.

#7 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 07:15 AM:

I'm not sure that the ground husbands will be very happy with their worms cut out...

#8 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 07:35 AM:

We have ordinary cookie cutters, boring by these standards -- a set of dinosaurs, a viking ship and a cow. This really surprised a Canadian friend of ours who was staying with us at Christmas once. She didn't find dinosaur cookies as satisfying as we did, and went out looking for a star-shaped cutter.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 07:50 AM:

My favorite standard cookie cutters are dinosaurs. One year for Patrick's birthday I made him a pumpkin pie with piecrust dinosaurs carefully laid down on top of the custard before it baked.

Johan (6), you're right -- it's the specificity that makes that story.

#10 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 09:19 AM:

If the husbands are ground fine enough, they won't care.

#11 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 09:22 AM:

Thank you for the springerle mold source! I have a couple of half-assed boards, and a cute Mexican rolling pin, that I bought after my mother so thoughtlessly sold my grandmother's molds. ("No one in the family knew what to do with them." "I bake springerles every Christmas." "Oh. Well, no one knew what to do with them.") But these are great. I may order some. I love the nautilus, and the Victorian board that has the giant-wheeled bicycle on it.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Nina A, the Springerle Baker site has a page on imprinting techniques, and a solidly technical FAQ.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 09:37 AM:

Beth: You have disappointing parents, and my sympathy.

Re that Victorian bicycle -- Firma König also has Montgolfier's balloon, and an early locomotive that Mike would have liked a great deal.

#14 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 09:54 AM:

> As you sure the guy on the rooster isn't a cuckold riding a cock (oh, how suggestive *that* is!)?

> My favorite standard cookie cutters are dinosaurs.

Once again we see the importance of sodomy/dinosaur balance.

#15 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Can't spot it yet (very slow connection, images take ages to load), but by "Victorian bicycle", do you mean a Penny Farthing? They're still ridden competitively these days. (Tasmania can be a bit … different. They're a very special place.)

#17 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 11:14 AM:

I didn't know what a springerle mold was, but when I clicked on the link I realized that there's a teddy bear one hanging in our kitchen. The previous owners left it there, and I'd thought it was just a cute decoration.

#18 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 11:24 AM:

Oh wow. I am a cookie-maker who likes creative frosting, but these are brilliant... and there are always people who end up with my cookies who might prefer them un-frosted.

I'll have to get one or two to try for my gingerbread. The nautilus and the owl are very nice, but I'd also like some holiday ones. I wonder if I can modify my current butter cookie recipe to work with these. One of the sites has a Cream Cheese Butter Cookie recipe for use with molds, so I have hope.

#19 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Leah, the dough has to be very stiff to take a good impression of the molds. Springerles are molded and then dried overnight in order to keep the image crisp.

I'd also be very wary of a dough that has a lot of butter in it. But fortunately, the mold-mongers have recipes on the sites, too.

#20 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 12:09 PM:

I've tried making springerle with a German mold, but didn't have much beginner's luck. I wonder, though, if you could use salt clay with these molds to make permanent decorations?....Ah, answered my own question. The ITCWebDesign page linked above shows examples of clay and chocolate decorations.

#21 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 12:17 PM:

Wow. And all I have are a 70s-era cookie press and a springerle rolling pin. Oh, and a pizzelle iron Mom bought but I don't think ever got used. There were, as I recall, standard cookie cutters somewhere along the line, but I have no idea where they ended up.

My kitchen feels positively underdressed now.

#22 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Another vote here for Dinosaur Cookies. They've been an annual tradition in our household since well before parenthood: our kids wouldn't know it was Christmas without the Annual Baking of Dinosaur Cookies.

(And the ritual decapitation of same....)

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 12:41 PM:

That's definitely a cuckold riding a cock (the horns give it away). Well, if his wife is sleeping with other men, why can't he do the same, right? Right?

Anybody find where they say what these molds are made of? I assume the originals are wood, but I also assume that these copies are not.

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 01:05 PM:

The Baby Tree even becomes an obscure science fiction reference, as one of the cuts on the Other Side of Blows Against the Empire, one of two Hugo-nominated lps, has a cut called "The Baby Tree" on it -- lyrics start (from memory, not researched)

"There's an island way out in the sea
Where the babies they all grow on trees..."

#25 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 01:51 PM:

We always made whales at Christmas time.

Because of a child's christmas in whales, of course, why do you ask?

#26 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Tom Whitmore, #24:

I was going to post that, but waited for lunchtime.

"The Baby Tree" was written by Rosalie Sorrells.

#27 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 01:56 PM:

Xopher @23 --

From the ITC site: "Only none poisonous material is used for the molds made by Dukasi in order not to pose any health hazards during the production process and for the user. It is a ceramic like material. Food grade shellac is used as a paint to prevent sticking of the dough to the mold and to protect it against water when cleaning it."

The Firma König site describes their molds as being made of food-safe "Kunstholz", which I am informed is a mixture of plastic and sawdust.

As for suggestive motifs, how about "Two Angels With Candle"? (Yes, I seem to be 12 today.)

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 02:00 PM:

Thanks, Debbie!

#29 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 02:09 PM:

O dog, you just made me buy something online and I never do that. Third thing in a week, even (the others were a wall-mounted clothes drying rack and a black walnut cracker). I got the double acorn cookie mold from House on a Hill. My daughter's getting married next year and her ring is oak leaves and acorns and I couldn't resist it.

I did like the St. Martin cutting the cloak mold, too, though it's hard to imagine eatingj that.

#30 ::: Lizzie Vixen ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 03:07 PM:

Wow, the cool things that exist in the world that I've never heard of! Thanks.

#31 ::: TKay ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Hmmm... and to continue the theme of the "husbands hanging from a tree" would be a cookie depicting the witch's collection of penises (peni?) in a nest. Because nothing says "Happy Holidays" like the Malleus. I'd give good money to see my neighbors' faces when I hand out a tin of those this year! But I think I'll just stick with Shakespeare.
Thanks for all of the links. You feed our minds *and* our bellies!

#32 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 06:57 PM:

So, T, how do you research this stuff without your head exploding?

#33 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 07:56 PM:

I love these so much that I feel inspired to try baking some cookies, which is something I never do. Please provide foolproof recipe. Thanking you in advance,

#34 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 08:53 PM:

another notable molded cookie is the Norwegian sandkaker. I found recipes for them on the web, but no molds however.

#35 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Yay — a quick email to my dad resulted in an offer of the family springerle molds, plus round cookie tins with airtight lids.

Upon reflection, I think there was an ulterior motive behind the offer of the tins....

#36 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2008, 11:18 PM:

I don't know anything about making cookies with molds, but a friend of mine does the best sugar cookies ever. She has a huge cabinet full of her frosting colors, cookie cutters of all shapes, things like that. She and her family have made tie-dyed cookies-- put a line of stiff royal icing around a cookie, then fill it in with runny stuff in different colors, and blend with toothpicks-- and occasionally she'll get a wedding and match the bridesmaids' dresses. The purple female-sign cookies at the Wiscon bake sale this past year were hers. She decided that the vulva cookies might not be appropriate for a new group of people.

#37 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 12:43 AM:

TK @ #31 made me snort with laughter. If there were cats down here, I'd be scaring them.

TNH: Oh, you're absolutely right that Mike would love that Eisenbahn. Me, I came to check out Martin Luther's head, but the Biedermaier mermaid has got a much stronger hold on me now. But what really gladdens me is the recipes and how-to information. I have a cookie mold hanging in the kitchen that I meant to show you when you were in town, but I forgot: it's about ten inches in diameter, and has all sorts of thing in what appears to be a town scene: those Dutch-type houses with the stepped fronts and hoists off the front of them, and a rather grand cathedral-looking thing with two towers and six elaborate arched windows, and a river running through the town with boats on it, and a big dock in the front with a boat full of people who seem to be unloading or loading a lot of goods, and a guy dressed vaguely like Sir Walter Raleigh supervising. The town has a fancy stone gate with three little towers flying pennants, and most of the buildings have tiled roofs. There are also a bunch of birds flying around who are clearly Not To Scale, or else this is a fantasy novel cookie, and three guys in a boat who seem to be wearing porkpie hats and rowing away really fast. Oh, and it's also got a mermaid with a seahorse tail who seems to be keeping an eye on the dock scene. There is also what looks vaguely like the silhouette of a tank, but that's just plain wrong. (And now I really want Mike, because he would make up the Kelly's Heroes Crossover version of this cookie mold. Hee!)

I should take a photo. Or make a cookie and photograph that.

#38 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 01:12 AM:

Growing up, I made spritz cookies every Christmas -- shortbread dough through a cookie press with different cutout plates to make different shapes. When I gave away most of my cooking/baking/table linen stuff last year, I kept only one cookie cutter: The gingerbreadwoman.

#39 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 01:58 AM:

@ teresa-Thank you again!
@beth mecham-I'm glad you posted that-maybe I didn't get the dough stiff enough.

#40 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 05:13 AM:

TKay@31: The Latin plural would be "penes". (And means "tails".)

#41 ::: [crunchy spam] ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:19 AM:

[posted from]

#42 ::: [made with butter] ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:22 AM:

[posted from]

#43 ::: [cut out with] ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:25 AM:

[posted from]

#44 ::: [my spam-post cutter] ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:26 AM:

[posted from]

#46 ::: Debbie sees several batches of spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:45 AM:

Well, looks like hot cookies are attractive, even to spammers.

#47 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 07:55 AM:

31: I'd give good money to see my neighbors' faces when I hand out a tin of those this year! But I think I'll just stick with Shakespeare.

Good idea. "Here, have a Shakespeare cookie!"
"Thanks! Which play?"
"Titus Andronicus. Go on, have another!"

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 08:58 AM:

Ajay #47: Timon of Athens would obviously be inappropriate.

#49 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 09:02 AM:

#48: Timon needed chocolate chip cookies.

#50 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 09:10 AM:

Thanks for pointing to these sites. No, I'm not going to spend /m/u/c/h/ money for springerle molds, but it's a delight to know that they're available in reproduction form. (The few originals (in wood) I've seen, over the years, have been (as accurately as I can describe it) geometric designs using traditional chip-carving techniques. The realistic carvings are much more interesting & appealing.)

Actually, some years I've not come across springerle at all during the Christmas Season, much less early enough for them to age properly, and even pffernussen can be scarce, (My Swiss-born maternal grandfather was a baker, and a particular fondness for both these kinds of cookies lingers.)

#51 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 10:01 AM:

<editrix: mode=pedant>Google gives it as pfeffernussen.</editrix> Sounds tasty.

#52 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 10:35 AM:

50/51: Pfeffernussen are extremely tasty.

#53 ::: TKay ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 12:10 PM:

elise #37: Glad I could help :)
David #40: Thanks! My Latin, she's not so good.
ajay #47: snort!

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 01:32 PM:

Maybe we should send cookies to Pakistan?

But not ones made with these molds . . . graven images!

#55 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 02:18 PM:

These are awesome! I have a deep desire now to commission the carving of some molds that depict Harry Potter scenes and perhaps a steampunk/LXG vision or two. Perhaps War of the World tripods (commemorating their defeat, of course) or Around the World in 80 Days balloon race?

#56 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 05:21 PM:

[Even more pedantic]: Pfeffernuesse actually.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 05:57 PM:

Shouldn't that be Pfeffernüße?

#58 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Touche - or should that be touché?

Although I hasten to add that my orthography and yours are functionally equivalent, especially when using a non-German keyboard, in the same way that 'and' and '&' are.

#59 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 06:27 PM:

Jakob (56): Very true. I was copying Epacris. After I hit 'post' it occurred to me that the final 'n' was wrong. (I knew about the ü but couldn't think how to make it.)

#60 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 10:11 PM:


I'd plead "using an obscure Switzerdeutsch dialect" if I thought I could get away with it, or that there wouldn't be a Certified Expert on such dialects, here.

My Swiss/German is pretty much limited to about a dozen food-related words, and a few literary catch-phrases (such as "Kennest du das lande woh zie Citroen varoomen...") mostly rendered via a highly-original phonetic system and filtered through a cloudy memory.

#61 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2008, 10:43 PM:

Mary Aileen 59: I knew about the ü but couldn't think how to make it.

&uuml; gives ü.

And btw &szlig; gives ß.

#62 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Xopher (61): Thanks. I finally googled it to get it right.

#63 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 06:01 PM:

Oh, would that the links hadn't suffered link-rot. Such is the way of the world. And the net.

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