It starts with my husband, Gary, asking me to make Springerles, the German anise cookies his childhood neighbor, Mrs. Schlobaum, used to make. Innocently, I agree.
Two days before Christmas I realize the cookies must mellow in an airtight container for two weeks. I abandon the project.
I start earlier. My recipe requires a Springerle rolling pin engraved with pictures. I can’t find one, so I use a different recipe calling for spooning the dough onto a cookie sheet.
Beating eggs and sugar for 20 minutes as instructed, I wonder if Mrs. Schlobaum had an electric mixer. I imagine a sturdy woman in a dirndl with a braid circling her head and Popeye muscles from beating Springerle dough. At 19 minutes, my mixer grinds to a halt. Overheated. Kaput.
What now, Mrs. Schlobaum? I suddenly channel Mrs. Schlobaum and she tells me to do it the old-fashioned way. I wonder if I need to wear a dirndl.
After drying the unbaked cookies overnight, I bake them and store them until Christmas Eve.
“They’re really good,” Gary says.
“Like Mrs. Schlobaum’s?”
“Yes, except hers were rectangular and had pictures on them.”
To help me channel Mrs. Schlobaum again, I ask Gary to tell me more about her. Here’s what he remembers: She had white hair and a thin face. She wore flowered housedresses and aprons. She had an ashtray made out of a real elephant’s foot. Her grandson mowed her lawn until he cut off his finger in the mower. This is not helpful. I prefer my Mrs. Schlobaum.
I am determined to make rectangles with pictures on them. Lacking a Springerle rolling pin, I use a cookie mold with Christmassy designs.
I flour everything in sight to prevent sticking, but the dough sticks to every nonstick surface anyway. I keep starting over until finally the dough is rolled out. I push the cookie mold into the dough and lift it off.
Happy little snowmen and Santas smile up at me. Mrs. Schlobaum and I smile back. I try to cut them into rectangles, but they smush together. I try to pick them up, but blobs of Santa and snowman bodies stick to the mat, leaving holes in their once plump middles.
“No! No!” they scream.
I realize I am the one screaming when Gary rushes into the kitchen. Springerle dough hangs from my fingers, my cheek, my hair.
“I will never make these damned cookies again,” I growl.
Gary nods solemnly and wisely backs away.
I end up making plain old rectangles, no pictures. I don’t care anymore. I’m done with Springerle.
But Mrs. Schlobaum won’t leave me alone. I am, after all, descended from a long line of stubborn Germans who hate to admit defeat. I contemplate buying a Springerle rolling pin.
I Google “Springerle” to check out the rolling pins. The Springerle Bakery pops up. One click takes me to a wonderland of beautiful cookies. Minutes later, I’ve ordered three dozen assorted Springerle to be delivered to my doorstep.
Take that Mrs. Schlobaum!
Liz Zuercher writes fiction and personal essays and co-authors the blog, Little Bit Everything in Tasty Sauce, http://tastysauce.blotspot.com.