Headily spiced with ginger, cinnamon, white pepper, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, with a hint of molasses, the origin of these traditional treats is intricately linked to the history of the Netherlands. The Dutch controlled the spice trade with the East in the 17th century, making the use of spices more accessible to ordinary Dutch people. Spices were still expensive, however, which is why their use was reserved for the holidays.
How to translate the name of a classic Dutch Sinterklaas cookie like kruidnoten? We've seen "ginger nuts" used, but it's also the name of a commercial cookie that doesn't have the same heady blend of spices. Name aside, do try these gingerbread-style cookies. Our tried-and-tested homemade version is so much better than what you can buy in a shop - especially if you're bold enough to blend your own custom spice mix, which is ridiculously easy and really makes it your own.
- 1 3/4 cups (200 g) self-rising flour
- 1/2 cup (100 g) donkerbruine basterdsuiker (see Tips) or pure cane sugar (demerara)
- 7 tbsp (100 g) butter
- 2-3 tbsp milk
- 4 tsp speculaaskruiden (or pumpkin pie spice)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- The finely grated zest of half an orange
- 1 egg white, beaten, to brush the cookies
In a large mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients (except the egg white) and knead well. You may use a mixer with a dough hook attachment here. You should be able to shape the dough into a ball without it sticking to your hands. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour. so that the spices can work their magic.
Preheat the oven to 347 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
Wet your hands and roll little marble-sized balls of dough (approx. 1/2 inch/12 mm). Place the dough balls on the cookie sheet. Using your thumb, gently press down on each ball to flatten slightly. Brush with egg white. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cookies puff up and turn a slightly darker shade of brown. Allow to cool.
- Basterdsuiker is a typical Dutch product. It is manufactured by adding invert sugar and other ingredients to fine white refined sugar. This mixture helps to achieve certain textural structures and keeps baked goods moist. There are three varieties, white, brown and dark brown, called witte basterdsuiker, (licht)bruine basterdsuiker or gele basterdsuiker and donkerbruine basterdsuiker. It is widely available from Dutch supermarkets and some Dutch groceries on the internet. I've had good results substituting the donkerbruine basterdsuiker in this recipe with pure cane sugar (demerera).
- You can order little sachets of speculaas spices (known as speculaaskruiden) online. But you can easily substitute pumpkin pie spices. You can also make your own speculaaskruiden, which really allows you to tailor things to your tastes - a little more cinnamon, or a little less cardamom - whatever you fancy.
- Kruidnoten make a great gift. Simply wrap up in some cellophane and tie with a ribbon.
Did you know?
- Sinterklaas treats, such as kruidnoten, pepernoten and various candies are known as strooigoed, because they're traditionally strewn and eagerly scooped up by children. The act of sewing suggests fertility, like a farmer sowing his seeds, and the practice is supposedly linked to more ancient Germanic fertility rites practiced here, with children being the living symbols of fertility.
- Kruidnoten are often mistakenly called pepernoten, which are actually slightly chewy, rusk-like aniseed and honey cookies.
- Traditional kruidnoten remain popular, but new variations, such as truffle kruidnoten, chocolate-covered kruidnoten and yoghurt-covered kruidnoten are also enjoyed.