xxYou're at your local flea market and as you walk down one of the aisles you spot a basketfull of wooden kitchenware. You rifle through the odds and ends until you spot what appears to be an old wooden mold at the bottom of the basket. Upon examination you find that it has a handle and the design of a flower has been carved into one side. It's a lotus flower. Turning it over you see the dealer had affixed a sticker with this information, "Lollipop Butter Mold - Rare." Hopefully you have set this mold back in the basket by now and are back to your search, unless of course you were in the market for a very common and very inexpensive Chinese rice cake mold.

xxBecause of the wide variety of wooden mold-types, it is very difficult for many antique dealers to correctly identify every wooden mold they come across. The seller of the Chinese rice cake mold may have never seen a mold like that before. To him it does resemble a lollipop butter mold in some ways. Maybe the dealer next to them said they knew for certain the mold was used for butter. Or maybe, just maybe, he is an unscrupulous seller who has a bin-full of these imported Chinese molds in his garage and is slowly selling them off at a nice profit to those collectors who are not properly informed. Luckily for you, if you remember the information on these pages, you will not end up spending $40 to get a $5 antique mold. Not to mention you may end up with one type of mold, which really isn't what you collect.

xxWith the recent explosion of internet antique web sites, online auctions and antique mega-malls, collectors of cookie boards are finding more and more molds than ever. Along with some great finds are many wooden molds which are mid-identified. Some of these misidentified molds seem obvious to experienced collectors, but they are common mistakes for beginning collectors or antique dealers who are unfamiliar with wooden molds. There are also some more subtle mistakes being made, like calling a cookie board a cake board, or vice versa. That common mistake is where we will begin.

COOKIE or CAKE?

Mistakes are commonly made in the identification of cookie and cake boards. It's an easy thing to do since both molds make a type of cookie. However, the molds themselves are very distinct from one another.

Cake Board
Cookie Board
Glare reflecting off the surface of a cake board (top) shows how different designs are carved separately into the surface of the board to produce the overall design of the mold. Looking across the surface of the mold you will notice how the high points within the elliptical border are at the same height as the surface area of the board outside of the design area. The close-up photograph (bottom) shows how the only depth to the mold is the design itself. When imprinted on the dough, a cake board leaves behind only those details carved into the board. The thickness of the cake depends on how thin or thick the dough is rolled out prior to being imprinted. In making a cookie board, the woodcarver first carves down into the board and then carves the details of the design. Notice how much wood was removed from the board before the carver started adding details to the man's face (above). The carver continued to remove wood, as different parts of the design were required to be deeper than others (bottom). Compare these two types of carving and you will notice that unlike the cake board, the cookie board details are all contained within the one deep design. The dough was pushed down into this design and the mold shaped the dough. The depth of the design dictated how thick the dough would be after it was removed from the mold.
xxOne of the main differences between cookie and cake boards is the depth at which the design is carved. With most cookie boards, the carver removes a significant amount of wood as he first carves a deep area within the outside border of the design and then carves the details of the design. Depending on the size of the mold, this depth can be anywhere from 1/4-inch to 5/8-inch. The outside edges of most cookie board designs tend to slope quickly to the deepest part of the carving. The picture above is shot across a carved section of a cookie board. Notice how deeply the design is carved into the wood. This depth allowed the baker to push the dough into the mold, trim the excess dough and then knock the formed cookie from the mold prior to baking. This resulted in gingerbread-based cookies called speculaas (Netherlands), spekulatius (Germany), and speculoos (Belgium).

xxConversely, cake boards (or cake prints as they are sometimes called) lack the overall depth of a cookie board. The woodcarvers who created cake boards in 19th century America, carved only the design itself into the surface of the board. Much like a German springerle mold, the high points of the design are flush with the surface area of the board. There is no overall depth because these molds were used differently by the bakers of that time. With a cake board, either the mold was set on top of the dough and then pressure was applied to the mold in order to leave the design on the dough, or a thin piece of dough was placed on top of the mold and a rolling pin was used to roll the dough and imprint the design. Another difference between the two mold-types is that cake boards are considered primarily as an American culinary object, while most cookie boards are Continental. Cake boards were usually carved from mahogany, walnut, or occasionally cherry wood.

Other Mistaken Identities
xxIf you collect wooden molds, then there is no doubt that you have seen a butter mold called a cookie mold, or a fabric print called a cookie mold, or even a cookie mold called a cheese mold. This really drives me crazy because with a little bit of research, both buyer and seller could discover what a particular wooden molds is used for. In this section of Mistaken Identity, I hope to clear up some of this confusion by illustrating many different types of wooden molds and describing their uses.
Chinese Rice Cake Mold
Fabric Print
These molds are being heavily imported from China and are commonly found on eBay, in antique malls and at antique shows (see picture below). They are often sold as butter molds or cookie molds, but are neither. These molds are used to form a sticky and slightly sweet rice cake which is served as a dessert in China. Designs range from the lotus flower (pictured above), to fish, dogs, mushrooms and people. For a Chinese rice cake recipe, please see the recipe pages on this site.
Fabric prints are becoming more common on internet auction sites. I've seen them listed as cookie prints, butter prints and pastry stamps. There are hundreds of different designs for these prints, which are primarily imported from Asia and Europe.
Chinese rice cake molds

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