Proposing with Windmill Cookies

Last Saturday, Saint Nicholas came to our town. The kids were all excited because this means three weeks of eager anticipation counting down to December 5. The highlights during these weeks are the nights that they are allowed to put their shoe, so Saint Nicholas' magical helpers —known as "Zwarte Pieten"— can fill them with candy and a small toys.

The candy that goes into the shoe is not just any candy, but special Saint Nicholas candy that can usually only be bought in November and early December. There are "schuimpjes" –a sort of meringues– in the shape of carrots, horses and Saint Nicholas, chocolate coins, "pepernoten" – a sort of spicy mini cookies–, and of course "speculaas" which is also known as windmill cookies.

In 2013, we dedicated an article to "pepernoten". This year I want to tell you about some peculiarities of "speculaas". "Speculaas" is made of flour, dark brown sugar, butter and a special spice mix made of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamon, and white pepper. The dough is then either rolled out and cut into rectangular pieces or it is formed into cookies with a mold. Nowadays, most molds for the export have the image of a windmill, hence the name. Traditionally, however, the image can be anything. Long ago, the image of a man or a woman was popular for a very specific reason: they were used to propose to a girl!

The feast of Saint Nicholas follows the traditional fall fair that used to be held in most villages at the end of October. The most famous being that of Tiel. At the fair the so-called fair cake was sold, made of the new harvest of rye and honey. The fair was the place to meet teenage boys and girls from other towns and hence popular to flirt and find a suitable future spouse. To reveal his feelings for a girl,  a boy would buy her a fair cake. If she offered him a slice that meant she was willing to become his wife.

"Speculaas" dolls had the same function. If a young man wanted to propose to a girl, he would give her a "speculaas" doll, called a "vrijer" (meaning "lover"). Accepting the doll meant accepting the marriage proposal. Today, the tradition has virtually died out. But who knows, maybe your great-grandfather still proposed to your great-grandmother with a "vrijer" instead of a ring...

Want to try baking some windmill cookies yourself? Just take the dough from the "pepernoten" recipe mentioned above, and form it into cookies instead of little balls.

Want to know more about the Saint Nicholas tradition? Read our article on the origin of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus.