This Christmas, gather together around the table, Summit County | SummitDaily.com
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This Christmas, gather together around the table, Summit County

Local PBS chef and author Christy Rost and her family have many holiday traditions, from a soup supper on Christmas Eve to baking springerle cookies to send to friends and family.
Courtesy of Christy Rost |

SWISS SPRINGERLE COOKIES

(Recipe created by Christy Rost, http://www.christyrost.com.)

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons anise extract

2 to 3 tablespoons anise seeds

1 small bowl water to moisten rolled cookies

Grease cookie sheets. In a medium bowl, stir flour with soda; set aside. In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs with sugar until very thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Stir in anise extract.

Using a large spoon, stir in flour mixture, blending well. Dough will be soft and sticky. Divide dough into thirds, shaping one portion into a ball with floured hands; cover remaining cookie dough with plastic wrap.

On a floured pastry cloth, roll cookie dough to ½-inch thickness. Using springerle molds dipped in flour, or a floured springerle rolling pin, press firmly on dough and then remove mold. Dough will now be about ¼-inch thick and will contain an imprint.

Trim around cookies with a sharp knife or biscuit cutter. Lift cookies with a metal spatula or knife. Using fingertip, moisten bottom of cookies with a drop of water, sprinkle a few anise seeds on the cookie sheet, and place cookies over seeds, leaving 1-inch between cookies. Continue with remaining cookie dough, re-rolling scraps.

Allow cookies to stand overnight to dry, covered lightly with a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper. The next day, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes until cookies are firm and dry. Cookies should not brown.

Remove baked cookies from cookies sheets while hot. Cool on wire racks until completely cool. Store cookies in an airtight container up to one month. Anise flavor develops after 2 to 3 days.

Recipe makes 40 to 45 cookies.

Springerle cookies have been a Christmas tradition for local PBS chef and author Christy Rost since she was a child, welling up each year from memory.

“My Grandmother Hewston in Pittsburgh made these incredible gingerbread cookies, paper thin, and she kept them in the garage, so they were always cold and crisp and beautiful,” Rost said. “But she would also send my grandfather to the bakery down the street for springerle cookies. They were round and smooth topped. I loved both cookies, but springerle cookies are a Swiss and German tradition.”

As a young wife, Rost was determined to learn how to make springerle cookies to bring back those memories, so she started researching, eventually putting together a recipe and making the first batch. Now, each holiday season, friends and family look forward to receiving packages of the cookies in the mail, sent with love from Breckenridge.



WHAT’S IN A COOKIE?



Springerle cookies get their subtle licorice flavor from anise seeds and separate into two layers when baked, a softer, cakelike yellow layer on the bottom and a white, crisp top, a sort of “miracle in the oven,” Rost said. Once cooled, the cookies need about 48 hours to develop their flavor, which is why the decorative bites ship so well.

“Traditionally, they are imprinted with a picture,” Rost said. “There are springerle rolling pins, which many cooks are familiar with, and they have a little picture carved into them, but I prefer to use a collection of springerle cookie stamps that I’ve collected through the years.”

Rost started her collection of stamps when she was living in Texas, and it grew when she moved to Paris and began traveling to Germany and Switzerland.

“Some of my favorite ones are wood and we bought them in Bern, Switzerland,” she said. “I have others that I’ve bought and found other places, a hearth with a stocking hanging from it and a fire in the fireplace; I have another of a Santa Claus that is very precious and also a teddy bear one.”

Baking and shipping the cookies is a 30-plus year ritual for Rost, and though the sweet treats are always eagerly anticipated, she’s still trying to perfect the recipe at altitude.

“I have to add just a little more moisture to the dough when I make it, otherwise it’s just a little too dry,” she said. “And when they bake, they develop an air hole in between the upper and lower level. I haven’t quite figure out how to eliminate that, but I’m working on it.”

TRADITIONS OLD AND NEW

Eating springerle cookies isn’t the only annual practice in the Rost household. Every year on Christmas Eve, the family attends Mass, and it’s become a tradition to have a soup supper, lighter fare as a prelude to the big Christmas dinner the following day. This year, Rost is preparing Old Chicago Minestrone and New England clam chowder, two recipes from her first cookbook, “The Family Table.” She’s also been creating holiday-inspired goodies for another custom: a dessert buffet to follow Christmas dinner.

“For the main meal, I may have a ham, a standing rib roast, a turkey, whatever I feel like that year, and all the accompaniments with it, but I always have the dessert buffet,” Rost said. “It’s an extra treat because Christmas Day and Christmas dinner are so magical. It’s time to splurge and sit around the table and exchange stories and memories of Christmas past or what you got from Santa that year.”

The buffet also serves as a way to bring some new holiday customs to the table. It will be the first Christmas the Rosts will spend with their son, Bob, and new daughter-in-law, Erin, since they were married, and Erin is contributing a flan to the collection of desserts. Rost said blending family traditions is all about being flexible and realizing that there are other ways to do things.

“It’s doing exactly what I did this year with my daughter-in-law, Erin, inviting her to have some ownership in the Christmas dinner, giving her the option of, what would you like to prepare?” Rost said. “Saying, I’d love to have something that you always have at Christmas dinner, I’d love to have that as part of our dinner this year.”

Cooking or baking is one way to bring families together; another is inquiring about the Christmastime traditions of new family members and finding a way to incorporate a few of them into the current array of customs, whether it’s opening presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, attending church services or putting up a tree.

“Young couples begin to have their own family and may desire to celebrate Christmas at home and not go to the parents’ home, combining traditions from the husband and the wife with their little ones to create their own family traditions,” Rost said. “I think that’s very, very special, too. Those are the traditions that are combined from two families that get passed on to their children and the cycle continues.”

BEING FAR FROM HOME

Many who move to Summit County end up far from home and family, which can be especially hard during the holidays, when money is tight and traveling expensive. Rost said sharing the season with friends can be an effective cure for the holiday blues.

“One year, Randy and I were here by ourselves and we opened the doors and had like 24 people for soup dinner on Christmas Eve,” she said. “In a place like Summit County, where there are so many people who work here and can’t get home, don’t have family or don’t have them close, it’s so wonderful and such a blessing when someone takes ownership and says, ‘I’m going to have Christmas dinner this year, and invite other ‘orphans’ to come and maybe bring one of their favorite dishes.’”

And if your friends don’t cook, that’s fine too. After all, it’s not about the food; it’s about the gathering, Rost said.

“Whether it’s a buffet, sitting around on sofas and chairs or on the floor around the coffee table, it can be very festive,” she said. “The meaning of Christmas is sharing and sharing with those who are important to you. There’s nothing like opening the door and saying, come for dinner.”


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