Tag Archives: Birmingham Bake and Cook Company

Springerle Cookie Molds

Artfully embossed Springerle cookies evoke a sweet nostalgia. 

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Think of them as sweet little woodcarvings that you can eat. Springerle cookies — thick, cake-like, anise-flavored cutouts topped with intricate three-dimensional figures — date from medieval times in southern Germany. Yet you can make these “picture cookies” fresh right now wherever you are. All you need are a handful of molds and a few helpful tips from Connie Meisinger.

Connie Meisinger makes embossed-topped Springerle cookies and sells molds in more than 500 designs.

Connie Meisinger is the queen of Springerle (pronounced SHPRENG-er-luh) and an enthusiastic expert on the subject. Based in Elmhurst, Illinois, just west of Chicago, she owns House on the Hill, Inc., which sells more than 500 different Springerle mold designs. Pressed firmly into rolled-out cookie dough, the molds create embossed images such as birds, flowers, pine cones, fruit, harps, angels, snowmen, stars, baskets, houses, trees, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and more. Rolling pin versions create a variety of images with a single pass over flattened dough.

Springerle pine cone mold and cookies pressed with it.

I met Connie when she taught a Springerle making class at Susan Green’s Birmingham Bake & Cook Company near my home. Connie travels extensively to tell her story, share her recipes, demonstrate her techniques, and promote her line of Springerle molds (for a schedule of appearances visit houseonthehill.net/news-and-events.) She has been on TV shows including NBC Chicago on WMAQ Channel 5, ABC News Saturday Morning on WLS Channel 7, and The Martha Stewart Show on the Hallmark Channel. During presentations she tells her story while rolling dough, dusting molds with flour, pressing shapes into dough, cutting and transferring cookies to baking sheets, baking them and eventually letting everyone try samples.

The molds press intricate images into cookie dough.

House on the Hill offers many nostalgic designs.

Connie became an avid Springerle baker when her aging grandmother was no longer able to make the old-fashioned treats that were eagerly anticipated by her family during the holidays. She scrounged up harder-to-find key ingredients including anise oil and hartshorn (ammonia carbonate today but formerly a preparation made from ground-up deer horns) to go with the more readily available flour, sugar, eggs and butter in grandma Nini’s recipe. She found a few factory-machined molds that didn’t quite satisfy but that eventually led to her current career as a mold designer and distributor. Her extended family, glad to the see the tradition continue, rejoiced at the tasty results and gobbled every cookie she made.

On a lark in 1993 Connie submitted her recipe to the Chicago Tribune’s annual cookie contest. She was named one of several winners and got mentioned in the newspaper. Caroline Kallas, the owner of a little homegrown Springerle mold business called House on the Hill in nearby Lombard, read the article and contacted Connie to invite her to check out the merchandise. “I did, and I was hooked,” Connie says. “I became a frequent customer, collecting as many molds as I could afford. Caroline died in 1999, and three years later my husband and I bought House on the Hill from her husband. We’ve been running it ever since.”

The Showstopper Rolling Pin (top center) presses 25 different images. Photo courtesy of House on the Hill

The molds look like they’re hand carved from solid wood just as they were centuries ago. Modern versions, though still handcrafted, are made from resin and wood composite. Most are replicas of antique carvings, giving them a historic and traditional appearance. “Bakers in guilds back then had to be excellent woodcarvers too, so they could create their own molds,” Connie says. “When a lot of German families immigrated to America in the late 1800s, they couldn’t always bring big things like furniture, but they brought cherished cookie molds made of clay or wood or metal. Many of those heirlooms are in museums and private collections now. Sometimes we’ll borrow an antique mold from a museum and replicate the historic design to add to our selection. We also have a woodcarver create new designs.”

...then lifts the cutout to a baking sheet.

Connie cuts around a pressed angel image...

During her classes Connie offers interesting tidbits and helpful hints. Traditional Springerle cookies are flavored with anise, she notes, but she also uses orange, lemon and almond and is experimenting with a cherry-almond combination. It’s best to make them after the first freeze, she says, when humidity is low and the dough stays dry so it doesn’t stick in the molds. She says symbols play a big part in Springerle designs, ranging from pomegranates (once given as wedding gifts because their many seeds represented fertility) to depictions of great cathedrals (created as souvenirs for travelers who visited renowned religious sites).

The molds look like carved wood but are made of resin and wood composite.

By the time her class ended and I was nibbling a one of the pretty little white works of edible art, I could hardly wait to get home and try a batch of my own. If you’re interesting in making Springerle cookies and need some molds to get started, order some from the House on the Hill website, which has pictures of each design.

I recently learned that in German the word Springerle means “jumper” as in a jumping horse. I wonder if the unique style of cookie got that name because jumping horses were once depicted on them. Or because pulverized deer horn (deer jump too, right?) was once a key ingredient. Or because the dough “springs” out of the deeply carved molds or “springs” up as it bakes. I also read an account of how medieval Yule festivals among pagan Germanic tribes involved animal sacrifices in hopes of appeasing the gods into sending a mild winter, and that poor people who couldn’t afford to kill their livestock instead created token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads or cookies.

I don’t know the definitive answer, if there is one, but I plan to ask Connie about it the next time she comes to town to teach her Springerle baking class. Meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy some cookies and hope you do too.

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House on the Hill, Inc.

650 West Grand Avenue, Unit 110, Elmhurst, IL 60126

630-279-4455 or toll free (in the U.S.) 877-279-4455

email support@houseonthehill.net

See a catalog of Springerle molds and order online at houseonthehill.net

Find out where Connie Meisinger will be demonstrating Springerle techniques by visiting houseonthehill.net/news-and-events

Pristine white Springerle cookies might look too pretty to eat, but go ahead!

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Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert

The down-home baker known simply as “Sister,” whose irresistible yeast rolls are legendary in the South, shares recipes and her inspiring story in her cookbook, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.

by Bakery Boy

I’ve been eating Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls for many years and for several reasons:

• Because they consistently taste terrific, from buttery to sweet to savory ends of the brown-and-serve spectrum.

• Because they’re as easy as picking up pans from the grocer’s freezer case and popping them in the oven for 20 minutes.

• Because Sister Schubert, a fine southern lady from the heart of Alabama, supports worthy charities through a foundation she created when her bread business grew from a home kitchen project into a nationwide juggernaut.

• And because I met her recently at a book signing and learned first-hand that she’s genuine “good people,” as we say down south without fretting the grammar.

THERE’S A BOOK? That there even was a book signing to attend, and thus a book, set off bells in my bakery-obsessed mind. I thought, if Sister Schubert has a cookbook out, I can make my own Parker House rolls, cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, orange rolls, and sausage wrap rolls, just like hers.

I got a copy of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Success, Cooking & Living, and sure enough recipes for some if not all my favorite Sister rolls are included, plus many more unrelated to her frozen-rolls empire. I baked several items before going to meet her, glad to add new recipes and techniques to my personal arsenal.

Even with her book in hand, I will continue picking up store-bought Sister Schubert pans. Partly because making any kind of bread at home is very time consuming. Partly because it’s just too easy, at the supermarket, to grab those green-striped packages with Sister’s smiling face on them and know that at least that part of tonight’s dinner is taken care of.

Everlasting Rolls based on her grandmother's launched Sister Schubert's empire.

SHE’S GOOD PEOPLE Patricia Schubert Barnes of Andalusia, Alabama—dubbed “Sister” as a child by a sibling—ranks as a food celebrity in her home state. Locally the story is well known about how she started baking Parker House-style rolls the way her grandmother, known as “Gommey,” taught her, first for family, then for church fundraisers where they were an instant sensation, and soon for the world.

“I went from baking in my kitchen with a little Sunbeam mixer, to expanding onto my sun porch, to taking over 1,000 square feet in a furniture warehouse my father owned, to renting a 25,000-square-foot building, to moving into a 100,000-square-foot building in just a few short years,” Sister says of the business she launched in 1986.

“At first I took a few pans with stick-on labels to a little curb market in Troy and small grocery stores in south Alabama, asking them to sell my rolls. Now they’re sold all across the country and we’re making them by the millions every day at three locations. Two are close to home, in Luverne and Saraland, Alabama. The other is in Horse Cave, Kentucky, where we’re putting in what will be the fourth largest oven in America. That’ll make a lot more Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls!”

Most importantly, she adds: “Even though we’ve grown, we’ve stayed true to our roots. Our rolls have the same home-baked quality and taste as my grandmother’s. We use simple, wholesome ingredients like fresh milk, butter and whole eggs—never any preservatives. And every single roll is still placed in the pan by hand.”

Sister Schubert's Focaccia (see recipe elsewhere on the Bakery Boy Blog)

“BRAND AMBASSADOR” Sister sold her company to a larger entity, Lancaster Colony Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, but she and her husband, George, remain involved in running the Sister Schubert division.

“My title now is Founder and Brand Ambassador,” she told me during her book signing at Birmingham Bake & Cook Company. “I do speaking engagements, appear on TV food shows, autograph books at kitchen supply shops and bookstores, and talk about Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls at every opportunity.

“When I’m home I develop new products. We’re getting into sea salt now, taking the gluten out for people allergic to it, switching to unsalted butter from the lightly salted butter we’ve been using, and things like that. It’s exciting, and it’s all going to be delicious.”

THE BOOK Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, a good holiday gift idea for bakers and cooks, shares some of Sister Schubert’s best recipes. Her grandmother’s basic Everlasting Rolls (the Parker House rolls that started it all) come first, followed by variations with cheddar cheese, sausage, orange, or cinnamon.

She veers into non-baked items such as with smoked salmon crepes, cheesy shrimp and grits, artichoke crab dip, and chicken and sausage gumbo. But she quickly returns to her popular takes on cornbread, muffins, biscuits, scones, focaccia, challah, hot cross buns, something called tipsy eggnog bread, three kinds of pound cake, and more.

Find two excellent recipes—for corn muffins and focaccia—at two related posts here on the Bakery Boy Blog.

Sister Schubert's Country Corn Muffins (see recipe elsewhere on the Bakery Boy Blog)

Besides recipes and beautiful pictures, the book also shares Sister’s outlook on life, faith, family, and community. Bible quotes appear, from a favorite psalm (“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer”) to a verse from Corinthians (“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”).

Even the book’s title has biblical roots in Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”

THE FOUNDATION A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters goes to the Barnes Family Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 2001 by Sister and George. Its missions include:

• Feeding the hungry by funding food banks and shelters

• Sending college students to learn about other cultures through the Sister Schubert’s Annual Scholarship for Study Abroad operated by Auburn University School of Human Sciences

• Funding an orphanage called Sasha’s Home in the Ukraine (where the Barnes’s adopted their son Alexsey, or “Sasha” for short)

The foundation’s mission, Sister says, is “To show by what we do—that we are thankful for food in a hungry world, that we are thankful for friendship in a lonely world, but mostly, that we are thankful for the opportunity to help save and love all of God’s children in the world.”

Amen to that! And please pass the dinner rolls!

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Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls: 100 Crenshaw Parkway, P.O. Drawer 112, Luverne, AL 36049; www.sisterschuberts.com; 334-335-2232

To order a copy of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert (© 2009 CECA Enterprises LLC; $40), visit castyourbreaduponthewaters.com. Sister Schubert provided a copy for this review.

For more about the Barnes Family Foundation, to which a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters goes, visit www.barnesfamilyfoundation.org.

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Two recipes from Sister Schubert’s book appear on the Bakery Boy Blog.

Country Corn Muffins

Click here for the Country Corn Muffins recipe

Focaccia

Click here for the Focaccia recipe

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Cake Knife Tips

“Psst! Hey, Joe, bring your knife, it’s almost time to sing.” Why I always keep a cake knife handy at the office.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

At every office I’ve worked in, I’ve been the go-to guy for cutting cakes. Whenever there’s a birthday, promotion, engagement, newborn, retirement, or just Friday to celebrate, one co-worker or another swings by my desk, tells me in a stage whisper of a party about to happen, and says to grab my knife and come along.

Known for being raised in a bakery, I’ve gotten used to this. It’s a good reputation to have because I get to eat cake often. So I always keep a cake knife in my top drawer.

My training was entirely informal, the result of growing up surrounded by cakes at every stage of their life-cycle, from batter to slices. Ever since I can remember I pitched in at my family’s bakeshop to mix, pour, bake, cool, stack, frost, decorate, and even deliver cakes, plus I helped cut and serve cakes at home or at wedding, anniversaries, ribbon-cuttings, and other events we catered. I know a few tricks, yes, but for this essay I decided to seek an expert’s opinion.

No actual cake is necessary for knife wizard Susan Green to show how to cut thinner layers using a turntable and a pair of knives she has had since 1981.

PROFESSIONAL HELP So I contacted Susan Green, owner of Birmingham Bake and Cook Company. Susan loves knives and teaches a monthly kitchen knife skills class. A Culinary Institute of America graduate with 35 years of experience in the food industry—including purchasing equipment for countless restaurants from Boston to San Francisco to Manhattan—she knows all about cake knives.

Susan invited me to her kitchen-supplies store, where she and various guest chefs teach two culinary classes each week. She had new knives still in their wrappers to show me plus a venerable pair she’s been using since 1981. “They’ve held up well,” she said.

Susan focuses more on preparation (slicing layers horizontally before frosting them) than on serving (my forté), but she spoke confidently about both. Here are some of her tips:

New knives (left) and a pair Susan had wielded for three decades.

• “There are two kinds of cake knives—serrated and not. Use the serrated knife for less-dense cakes with textures softer inside and harder outside, like birthday and wedding cakes, and for angel food or Bundt cakes with more of a crumb factor. Use the non-serrated knife for denser cakes where there’s less difference between inside and outside textures, like nut-bread or cheesecake.”

• “Choose a knife that’s a couple of inches longer than the cake is wide. A 14-inch blade will handle rounds up to 12 inches or a full sheet; a 10-inch blade works for layers less than 10 inches or a half sheet.”

You want a good scalloped edge.

• “Pick a serrated knife with good scallops, each little curve coming to a point.”

• “You want a thin and flexible blade, not thick or rigid like a chef’s knife.”

• “You don’t want a curved blade for cake. Straight blades cut straighter with less sawing.”

• “You don’t need a sharp tip at the end because you don’t poke into a cake. Let the long edge, serrated or not, do the cutting. Save tipped knives for carving details if you’re creating unusual shapes.”

• “A turntable lets you rotate the cake and not reach out awkwardly. Keep your elbow close to your side, maintain a firm grip, and hold the blade horizontally to get layers of even thickness.”

• “Because you eat with your eyes, uniform thickness is key for good-looking cake layers. It’s not like a chicken, where every piece is different and you need different techniques to cut them.”

CAKE TIME Okay, your co-workers have gathered in an office or conference room, you’ve sung Happy Birthday, and you’re ready to eat. It’s your turn to slice and serve. Here are tips—some Susan’s, some mine—to help you cut cake like a pro.

• Top tip: Be the person with the cake knife, so you always get invited.

• Hot water is vital. If there’s a sink, run the blade under hot water and wipe it with a clean kitchen towel between each cut. Paper towels or napkins will suffice, but they get messy quickly, so keep reaching for new ones.

• No sink? Bring a pitcher of hot water, dip the blade in between cuts, and wipe with a towel. No pitcher? Do your best by wiping the blade each time.

• Never breathe on the blade to warm or polish it. Don’t lick your fingers while serving.

For a more stable grip, place your thumb and index finger firmly on the sides of the blade itself, carefully avoiding the sharp edge.

• Don’t saw through frosting, which will just smear. Press straight down for a nice clean cut.

• Work quickly to get through layers while the knife is warm. This keeps frosting between layers neat instead of smeared.

• On a round cake make the first cut all the way across at the center. Poking a knife tip into the middle first and pulling toward the outer edge is asking for trouble.

• Wash your hands before starting and avoid touching your hair, nose, or anything else. Don’t be that person whose hygiene leaves people wondering if they really want to eat cake after all.

• Avoid touching cake slices. Let wedges fall over if necessary and then slide the wide flat knife under to lift them onto plates. A fork in your other hand helps.

Susan bought these Victorinox cake knives while studying at the Culinary Institute of American in 1981 and she still uses them regularly.

• To really impress, bring a fresh pair of rubber gloves. Keeping an apron handy, well that takes the role too far. You want to be the helpful office-mate, not the one who secretly longs for a different career entirely!

BRAND CONSCIOUS Susan’s store stocks cake knives from Ateco of New York; R.H. Forschner – Victorinox of Switzerland (which makes Swiss Army Knives too); Kuhn Rikon of Switzerland; Messermeister of Germany; Wusthof of Germany; and Shun of Japan—all worth consideration. Prices vary widely, but for the new Ateco knives shown here expect to pay about $17 for the 10-inch or $27 for the 14-inch.

Through know-how, patience, and the right equipment, Susan leads cooks at all levels to better culinary skills.

DON’T BE AFRAID “People are intimidated by knives,” Susan says. “Knife skills are where many home cooks have the least training, and yet it’s the one area that will most improve their experience in the kitchen. That’s why I teach my knife classes once a month. Even those who come again and again learn something new.”

TURN, TURN, TURN About the turntable recommended for preparing cake layers: “Don’t call it a Lazy Susan,” says Susan sternly. I guess no Susan likes that term. And what, I’m going to object while she’s holding a big knife? “I sell a Fat Daddio’s 12-inch plastic turntable with ball-bearing swivel for $12.95,” she says, “and an Ateco 12-inch aluminum cake stand with non-slip pad, ball-bearing revolution system, polished finish, and a 200-pound capacity for $67.95.” See, I told you she knows her stuff.

GOTTA DASH Someone just dropped by and told me to grab my cake knife and come along to a surprise office party for several co-workers who’ve been laid off. It’s not a great cause for celebration, but hey, there’s cake! Now I’m wondering: What song do we sing for people at a layoff party?

INFO Learn more, sign up for classes, or order knives from Susan Green at Birmingham Bake and Cook Company, 5291 Valleydale Road, Birmingham, AL 35242; www.bakeandcookco.com; call 205-980-3661; email info@bakeandcookco.com.