Its Saint Nicholas Day! Are you celebrating? I am, because of all the things I love in this world, the Dutch, cookies, and Christmas rank pretty high. Besides, I am always looking for new holidays to add into my celebrating repertoire, and with a half-Dutch husband I think this makes fora pretty good addition.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I have never actually formally celebrated Saint Nicholas Day, but this is what I know. You put your shoe in front of the fireplace on December 5th (Sinterklaasavond), and if you are good, Sinterklaas swings by and fills it with presents and sweets. Very similar to Christmas, just 19 days early! I actually contemplated trying it out this year to see if my newly inherited Dutch connection would score me a little Sinterklaas visit but, I feared that my shoes (or more accurately, the amount thereof) might actually land me on the naughty list instead. Baking cookies seemed like a better way go.
So what cookie to bake? The wonderfully spicy Speculaas – full of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves (Specerij is Dutch for “spice” after all). This delicious cookie has been baked in the Low Countries for centuries as part of Saint Nicholas Day celebrations. Before we continue on about the cookie however, let me take a minute to blow your mind. So loved is this cookie flavour, that in 2007 a Belgium company introduced a spreadable version, (think of cookies blended with oil into a smooth butter) that became so insanely popular it outsold Nutella. Outsold NUTELLA. If you have never been to Europe, Nutella is like crack there, and this converted the junkies. To be fair though, those Benelux nuts are not alone. Just one quick google search for “cookie butter” will confirm this craze has gone global; us North Americans are just as bananas for it as well.
Now back to the cookies. There are two type of Speculaas that you can make: the thin, crispy version that is more like the ones you buy, or the softer, chewier version like the recipe below. This recipe calls for the traditional combo of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, but in my research I found other versions that got a little crazier with mace, cardamom, vanilla, and even white pepper for an extra warm kick. Whatever spices you opt for, give the dough a good few hours (or even better, overnight) to chill out in the refrigerator so flavours can permeate throughout. You never want a dough that has not been permeated…I am assuming.
Time to pour myself a glass of advocaat and enjoy a few Speculaas – sounds like a pretty good version of milk and cookies to me!
Sinterklaas is coming to town!
Recipe adapted from the Joy of Baking
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 lemon, zest only
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, spices and salt
- In the bowl of an electric mixer cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
- Beat in egg and lemon zest until well combined
- Add flour mixture and beat until combined
- Shape dough into a round mix, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour (but preferably overnight)
- Once dough has chilled preheat oven to 350ºF, and line baking sheets with parchment paper
- Sprinkle cutting board lightly with some sugar. Roll dough out and cut into desired shapes (alternatively you can roll balls into 1″ rounds and then flatten using the bottom of a cup dipped in sugar)
- Place cookies on sheet, top with a little extra sugar, and bake in middle rack for 10-12 minutes