Adventures in German baking


Thank you Albrecht von Gaudecker for inspiring me to make German Christmas cookies this year.

Von Gaudecker, a world-renowned organist, is performing 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5, at Grace Lutheran Church and during planning for the event, it was decided a taste of German refreshments was needed along with standard American cookies at a reception afterwards.

Our church social committee was discussing how to find traditional German cookies for the reception, and I volunteered to bake some – thinking it might be fun to write about making these cookies. Each Christmas season I make chocolate covered cherry cookies, because my daughter loves them, but I have never made springerle, lebkuchen or pferrenusse, traditional German cookies. Though the recipes I am using are probably very old, they were a new challenge to me.

Springerle cookies are made using a special rolling pin with carved designs on it or using molds to imprint a design on the rolled out cookie dough. Decorating the top of my kitchen cabinet and gathering dust is one of those rolling pins, and it really was time to wash it and finally use it for what it was designed for. In my research for the perfect recipe, I read antique stores are the place to buy these rolling pins. I am glad I have always held on to the one I believe belonged to my husband’s grandmother.

Looking through countless recipes in old cookbooks and on the Internet, I chose one using regular baking powder. Many old recipes called for dry powdered ammonia, which needs to be purchased from a pharmacy. Thinking it was already a challenge to find the anise spice I went with a recipe using standard baking powder.

It was good, and I started early on the springerle, as all recipes say it is best if made at least three weeks in advance in order for the anise flavoring to be infused in the cookies.

German pfeffernuesse is another cookie I wanted to make, not only because I like the name, but also because I could use some Tom Patchett honey. Pferffernuesse is similiar to gingerbread with lots of spices, including a dash of black pepper. The dough is rolled into balls for baking, but my mother-in-law advised flattening them slightly before baking, which I did.

Another cookie I decided to make is lebkuchen. Lebkuchen calls for nuts and fruit, which I had on hand because I like to make biscotti, an Italian cookie. The instructions called for beating ingredients in a bowl, but I found another recipe suggesting making it in a food processor. I decided on the food processor method with the thought if it did not work I could make it again the other way. After all, cookies are said to be the result of a failure, when someone was trying to make a cake that did not rise.

These cookies, and other treats, follow von Gaudecker’s recital. He is a native of Hannover, Germany, and studied sacred music at the Hochschule fur Musik in Weimar, Hamburg and Lubeck and has performed recitals throughout Germany, Austria, Poland and the Netherlands, as well as other European countries and the U.S.A.

What is really exciting about this opportunity to hear a world-class organist is that he is performing on a world-class organ. The pipe organ at Grace Lutheran was the last instrument built by Lawrence Phelps, a noted organ builder, who built organs around the U.S.A. and the world. A few years ago, while touring the Air Force Academy chapel in Colorado Springs, I saw another Phelps organ, and it was truly a work of art.

At Grace Lutheran Church we have two wonderful organists, Judy Carroll and Jeannie Taylor, for which we are truly blessed. Each Sunday when they play, even those of us who are not first class singers, sound good. Friends who have come to various services have often said, “You people love to sing.” We do, and how exciting it will be for all attending the concert to not only hear great music but to join in and sing some favorite seasonal hymns during the concert.

How appropriate this event is Dec. 5, which happens to be the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas. In Germany, children put out their shoes the evening of Dec. 5, with the hope that in the morning they will find St. Nicholas has filled them with treats.

Local children may not get a treat in their shoe but they will benefit from the concert as the $5 admission fee all goes to support the Grace Lutheran Child Development Center. Only 120 tickets are available so it is important to contact the church at 217-466-1215 to purchase tickets or for more information.

An interesting side note about the Phelps organ at Grace Lutheran Church is Phelps refused to design or build it until the church removed the almost new carpeting and replaced it with tile. Phelps wanted the acoustics to be correct and a carpeted floor did not work.

Here is a hint for those not familiar with Grace Lutheran Church while attending the concert – watch for people in the audience sitting in their stocking feet. It has nothing to do with the feast of St. Nicholas. Most likely it is because the radiant heat coming through a title floor feels wonderful. Thank you Mr. Phelps.

Please join us Dec. 5 and be warmed and blessed by the beautiful music clear down to your toes.