Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Baking Sisters of Monastery Immaculate Conception

A special holiday tradition is a trip to the Monastery Immaculate Conception, a wonderful Romanesque building sitting high on a hill overlooking Ferdinand in Dubois County, Indiana. For it is here that the sisters make wonderful cookies in their Simply Divine Bakery which they sell at the monastery’s For Heaven’s Sake Gift Shop and online ( the sisters are very modern these days). Their big selling Christmas cookie is the springerle and they make and sell about 2700 dozen during their peak months – October through February. That may not sound like a lot, but the cookies are handmade by a group of the sisters using presses brought by one of the Benedictine order from Germany over a century ago.

“It’s a very time consuming process,” Sister Jean Marie Ballard told me. “They take a long time to make and five of us often work on them at a time.”

Traditionally, springerles are made with anise oil but for those who don’t  like the licorice flavor, the sisters created  almerles using the same recipe but substituting almond oil for the anise.”
Leading the baking of the springerles is Sister Barbara Jean who grew up in the predominantly German area of Ferdinand and nearby Jasper who has been making them since she was young.

The baking sisters grow their own peppermint on the extensive monastery grounds and use that for their buttermint cookies.  And they also bake a cookie they call the Hildegard after Saint Hildegard who lived in the 1100s and besides being saint sounds like a most remarkable woman.

A Benedictine abbess, she was a scholar who corresponded with popes and royalty and wrote books on natural science, medicine, theology, metaphysics and music.  Besides that, as a composer and lyricist, Hildegard created the earliest recorded music by a woman. All this in a time when most women – and men – didn’t even know how to read.  And when she wasn’t doing all that, Hildegard practiced natural medicine and in one of her writings, “Physica: Liber Simplicis Medicine,” she recommended the frequent consumption of a health cookie. It has long been a tradition in the monastery to make these cookies using Hildegard’s recipe which was recorded in 1157.

A Google search quickly led me to the recipe which calls for spelt flour, often available at health food stores, but whole wheat flour can be substituted. Besides that, all of the ingredients except for kelp, which is optional, are probably already in your pantry.

Saint Hildegard’s Cookie

Cream together:

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1 egg

In separate bowl, mix together:

2 cups flour (spelt, whole wheat, or 1/2 cup garbanzo flour plus 1 1/2 cups wheat)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tsp dulse or kelp (optional, but this adds valuable trace minerals)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground fenugreek (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds or walnuts (optional)

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour liquid ingredients in well and mix into dry ingredients.

Chill in refrigerator to cool, to make it easier to work with (optional). Form into walnut sized balls.
Place on greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

To order cookies, call 812 367-1411 or visit

No comments: