Share |

The Legend of Springerle

The Benson family of Brookings likes their Christmas cookies picture perfect. Every year, Leah Benson rolls out an embossed cookie called springerle, which means “little knight” or “jumping horse,” using a special rolling pin carved with pictures.

Springerle originated in southwestern Germany. “The legend is that back then, the peasants were so poor that they could not afford to give gifts. To celebrate the winter solstice they would carve the gift they wanted to give into a piece of dough, let it dry, bake it and give it to their loved one. Most carvings were things of nature because they worshipped Mother Earth,” says Benson, who has researched the ancient cookie and teaches classes about it at medieval re-enactment fairs. “The dough was leavened with hartshorn, which is a powder that comes from inside a deer’s antler. Today we use baking powder.”

Benson learned about springerle from her grandmother. “She always made these cookies with a special rolling pin that was handed down through the generations. I started collecting these rolling pins when I was 40,” Benson says. Rolling the dough with a springerle pin or pressing it with a carved mold creates pictures on the cookies — some more intricate than others. “Most of the modern rolling pins have simple nature designs, although I do have one very expensive one with the life of Christ carved into its 24 panels,” Benson says.

Her grandmother’s recipe creates thick, mixer-challenging dough. Benson recommends draping a kitchen towel over the back of the mixer to avoid spraying flour and powdered sugar. After mixing and rolling, the unbaked cookies must dry for 24 hours to preserve the pictures through baking. The cookies bake at a low temperature, resulting in hard, pale-colored treats perfect for dunking in coffee.

Many families bake springerle at Thanksgiving and save them until Christmas to allow the flavor to develop, but Benson’s family eats them right away because they prefer a softer texture. Rolling thicker cookies or baking for less time results in a softer cookie as well, but beware of rolling them too thick. You’ll get cookies that are “humped up and cracked and kind of ugly,” Benson says.


Springerle is a German tradition that became a staple of Christmas for many South Dakota families.


4 medium eggs, separated

1 pound powdered sugar

3 cups flour with 1/4 teaspoon baking powder added

1/8 teaspoon anise oil extract, or flavoring of your choice

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks for five minutes until light and lemon-colored. Add beaten yolks to egg whites and whip for three minutes. Gradually sift powdered sugar into egg mixture and add anise oil. Slowly add flour and baking powder until dough is stiff, smooth and velvety. You may need to knead in the last of the flour by hand.

Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces. On a well-floured surface, roll out each piece 3/8-inch thick using a regular rolling pin. Using a springerle pin, roll across the dough to create imprints. Cut cookies apart and place onto ungreased cookie sheets close together but not touching. Cover with a light kitchen towel. Allow them to dry for 12 hours, then flip to let the undersides dry for another 12 hours.

Flip cookies right side up and bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes. They may turn tan on the bottom, but should not brown.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2013 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


10:26 pm - Sun, December 1 2019
Karen Floyed said:
Thank you so much for this article and recipe. It reminds me of all the smells of my Gramdmothers kitchen at Christmas. Ahhhh. The wafting scent of Anise ever so lightly in the air. That meant I could have tea and cookies with Grandma!!!
03:25 pm - Tue, November 10 2020
Denise Smith said:
My grandmother did the same w/ cookie for Christmas. She some rolling handed down to.. Someone borrowed them & never gave them back. I have recipe but no good quality rolling pin of molds. Would like to get some but have not found any quality pnes.
09:25 pm - Wed, December 23 2020
Robert Schneider said:
I recently went down this path and my to my knowledge my Grandmother never had a rolling pin for these but she did make Kuchen. She was in Ipswitch SD. My wife recently bought me a nice rolling PIN from this little Etsy Shop which seems to roll quite well. I do wish it was longer but it seems of really good quality.

11:21 pm - Fri, January 29 2021
JeriLea Hines said:
I can't find the right rolling pin because it doesn't show all the details on other side.
11:26 pm - Fri, January 29 2021
JeriLea Hines said:
I can't find the right rolling pin because it doesn't show all the details on other side.
07:16 am - Mon, July 24 2023
Tina Fitzner said:
My Grandmother made these every year right after Thanksgiving. We didn't eat any until Christmas. She passed her cookie molds to me that had been passed to her from her mother who was from Germany.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
2000 characters remaining
Web Design by Buildable