Sunday, February 18, 2007

Molded Cookies

(cross posted from my SCA blog)

Tonight I am attempting to make molded cookes. Molded cookies seem to have a long and dignified although somewhat debateable history, so I decided to try my hand at a period approximation. I read through a lot of Elizabethan cookie recipes, and they seem to me to be variants on the theme of:
-Rose water
-Possibly spices

So I made this recipe:

Cream together:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons of sugar
Add, beating:
Spices to taste
1 egg
2 T rose water
Add slowly, beating:
1 3/4 c flour

Allow me a digression. Being of German extraction, Springerle were always a part of Christmas in my childhood. However, I myself have often remarked that Springerle is a German word meaning "How can we make cookies less fun?" They just don't taste that good, so unless you have really spectacular molds, there's not much point. Except, of course, tradition. The problem, though, is that this is simply the nature of molded cookies. The dough for molded cookies should be very, very stiff, with lots of flour, so that you can mold it. Well a stiff dough doesn't make a very enjoyable cookie. The cookies need to sit overnight before you bake them, so that the image doesn't "melt" during baking. This rules out modern leavening agents even if you aren't already omitting them for authenticity concerns. While springerle can be made with hartshorn as a leavener, I'm pretty sure (but don't quote me on this) that they turn out better when they are completely unleavened. So you end up with something a little... well, hard-tack-ish. If you read the last line of a lot of Elizabethan "cookie" recipes, the author makes a note about how long they will keep, often a truly appalling duration, like "A year or more." A year or more! This isn't a cookie, this is a Powerbar that you can stash in the dash of your car and discover six months later.

But don't let my rousing discouragement keep you from making them! There is after all something very satisfying about being able to say to someone "Would you like a cookie? They taste like rocks and they were ridiculously hard to make."

Let's say you make the above dough. Roll it out about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick between two sheets of wax paper and stash it in the 'fridge until it is quite cold (now don't ask me how they did this in period because I haven't come up with a good answer yet). When chilled, you take your sheet of dough (take off the wax paper), and brush it all over with flour. I know that sounds ridiculous, shouldn't you brush the mold? No. Brush the dough. Get out your pastry brush, all you need is the lightest dusting. Now grasp your mold and press it, firmly and evenly, into the dough. With the side with the design on it down, of course.

Allow me another digression. During the process of molding, I realized why this is a German tradition: you must be very fat to do it correctly. Only a large, sturdy woman with broad shoulders and a round face prone to both laughter and scolding can ever hope to exert enough force on a tiny block of wood (or in my case, resin) to compell it to leave an imprint on dough that is cold enough to hold said imprint. Holy cow, I might have even worked up a sweat while molded. I definitely grunted. If you are light, I have no advice for you. Maybe jump up and down on the mold a few times. For the heavy among us, I found I had better success with using a rolling pin or even my mortar to press down on the mold rather than just my hands.

Lay out your cookies on a baking rack and let them dry overnight. I well let you know what happens when I bake them.

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