Thursday, 6 December 2012

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Speculaas Koekjes can be sliced and baked if you
don't have a St. Nicholas mold.

With a nod to my German heritage and in honor of St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), I made Speculaas Koekjes (Dutch Spice Cookies) today. While they are traditionally made in the shape of Sinterklaas, I don't have a proper mold yet, so I improvised with a slice 'n' bake version.

St. Nicholas, as you probably know, is the legendary forerunner of our modern-day Santa Claus. He was the Bishop of Myra (now part of Turkey) and had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. He is the patron saint of children (but also students, sailors, archers, pawnbrokers and thieves!).

I found a recipe at the St. Nicholas Center website, where you can learn more about St. Nicholas and find other recipes for German baked goods associated with this traditionally European holiday.

The cookies had a lovely, spicy aroma that was dominated by cloves. It was a nice Christmas-y smell and they were quick to make and called for simple ingredients I had on hand. 

Paper towel tubes help slice 'n' bake cookies
retain a circular shape.
I rolled the crumbly dough into logs, which I placed in paper towel tubes to help retain a circular shape (instead of a flat-sided loaf shape). 

After being refrigerated for one hour, the logs were ready for slicing and baking. The recipe yielded 5 1/2 dozen cookies, which I sampled right away. They're crunchy and tasty, more like a tea biscuit than what I would call a classic cookie. Great for dunking, I would think. They're worth a try today - or any day you need a cookie fix! 

If you're interested in a St. Nicholas cookie stamp from Rycraft ($9.95, including free recipe booklet), follow this link:

The finished product is crispy and delicious.
St. Nick Cookies
2 cups brown sugar
1 ½ cups butter or hard margarine
3 ½ cups flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp salt, scant
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ginger

Cream butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Press well-chilled dough into cookie boards (flour mold well, press dough in with fingers, level it off, then turn the board over and bang one end on the counter so the cookie drops out).* Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350º F. for 10 to 12 minutes. Store in sealed container to retain crispness.

*Or shape into cylinder of desired size and chill thoroughly in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Slice and bake, as above.

St. Nicholas fills shoes with coins and treats on Dec. 6. 

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