Bake Your Own Sinterklaas Candy: Kruidnootjes (a.k.a. pepernoten)

Hoor wie klopt daar kind’ren? Hoor wie klopt daar kind’ren?
Hoor wie klopt daar zachtjes tegen het raam?
Het is een vreemd’ling zeker, die verdwaald is zeker.
Ik zal hem even vragen naar zijn naam.
Sint Nicolaas, Sint Nicolaas, breng ons vanavond een bezoek
En strooi dan wat lekkers, in een of and’re hoek

(Hear, who’s knocking children?
Hear, who’s knocking children?
Hear, who’s knocking gently on the window ?
It’s a stranger for sure. That's lost his way, for sure.
I’ll ask him for his name.
Saint Nicholas, Saint Nicholas, please visit us tonight.
And throw us some candy in a corner of our room)
Click here to hear the song in Dutch

How Kruidnootjes Were Invented
This old Sinterklaas song beautifully illustrates the tradition of throwing candy –kruidnootjes– into the room whenever Sinterklaas arrives at a home. But kruidnootjes and their predecessors pepernoten originally had nothing to do with this children’s feast.

Pepernoten originated in the Middle Ages with the arrival of expensive exotic spices such as pepper. Pepper was thought to possess aphrodisiacal powers and was therefore used to bake fertility cookies. These were thrown at newly weds on their wedding day alongside traditional fertility symbols like rice and flowers. This throwing of fertility symbols had also been part of an old pagan sowing feast that was celebrated at the beginning of December. The throwing resembled the farmer that sows his fields and it was meant to invoke good spirits.Under the influence of the Catholic Church the sowing feast had slowly been replaced in the 16th century by the Saint Nicholas feast. But traces of the pagan tradition survived by throwing the then fashionable pepernoten.

Nowadays fertility has little to do with this ritual. It's more about creating a sense of mystery on Saint Nicholas eve: while one parent distracts the kids, the other one secretly throws a hand full of pepernoten through the air leaving the little ones wondering where on earth they came from. Many people confuse pepernoten with kruidnootjes calling them both pepernoten. The original pepernoten though are made of tougher dough with honey and lots of anise. Kruidnootjes are smaller, crispier and are made with caster sugar and many other spices besides pepper and anise.

Ingredients
For the kruidnootjes:
250 gr. (1 cup) self raising flour
125 gr. (1/2 cup) dark caster sugar
100 gr. (4 oz.) soft butter
3 tablespoons of milk
1 tablespoon “speculaas spice mix” (see instructions below)
pinch of salt
2 chocolate bars to melt (optional)

For the speculaas spice mix:
6 teaspoons cinnamon powder
2 teaspoons nutmeg powder
1 teaspoon clove powder
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1 teaspoon aniseed

Preparation

  1. First make the speculaas spice mix. Put all the ingredients for the mix together in a little jar with a lid. Shake until the spices are well mixed.
  2. Preheat your oven at 150˚C (300˚F).
  3. Sieve the flower above a big bowl and make a little hole in the middle.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead them together with the flour until you get a nice smooth dough.
  5. Form little flat balls of the dough and put them on a greased baking tray.
  6. Bake them for about 20 minutes until they are brown.
  7. If you like, you can dip some of the cooled kruidnootjes in melted chocolate and let them dry.

Enjoy!