Today is a special day for the Dutch Christmas, as it is the “Sinterklaasavond”. It is an evening with celebrations, parties and feasts. Tonight is the time to exchange gifts!
Sinterklaas – The Dutch Santa
He carries a big book revealing whether each child has been good or naughty. Good children are given gifts and the naughty ones are threatened to be taken away from their families. Sinterklaas traditionally rides a white horse and delivers gifts to the children by riding his horse over the rooftops. He is assisted by Zwarte Piet, who voluntarily follows him.
It is customary in The Netherlands to put one shoe in front of the fireplace on 5.12. Carrots or apples are put in the shoe as a treat for Sinterklaas’ horse. The next morning the carrot would be gone and the children find candy or a small present instead.
After arriving from Spain to The Netherlands in November, Sinterklaas visits all the big cities via the canals. Everywhere he stops, there is a parade with animals and acrobats. A few years back one could see also elephants and other exotic animals. Nowadays for safety reasons there are only sheep and horses.
Every year there is a big debate whether the tradition of Sinterklaas should be altered. Many believe that it represents the past of the Dutch empire and its colonies. A man dressed like a king, accompanied by his slaves, parades with exotic animals and clowns to amuse the locals. But the Dutch want to preserve their traditions and enjoy the festivities!
Sinterklaas only brings small presents and treats to the children. For the bigger ones there is Secret Santa. Each family member draws a name and buys or makes a gift, creatively disguised as a surprise. There is a lot of fun in the evening when everyone is trying to find their Secret Santa. In addition, the aim is to make a hard to open package. Hiding the gift inside tomato sauce or a loaf of bread is advised. Self-made poems, teasing the recipient for well-known bad habits can be hilarious.
Typical treats are: hot chocolate, mandarin oranges, chocolate letter (the first letter of the child’s name made out of chocolate), speculaas , kruidnoten, chocolate coins, marzipan figures and chocolate figurines of Sinterklaas.
You will need:
250 gr. flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
100 gr. soft butter
3 tablespoons of milk
1 tablespoon ‘speculaas spice mix’ (see below)
a pinch of good quality salt
For the speculaas spice mix:
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon anise
- Mix all the ingredients together and taste
- You can add more pepper or salt at this stage.
- Preheat your oven to 160° C
- Form little balls (1cm) of the dough and put them on grease paper on a baking tray.
- Bake them for 30 minutes. They will become crunchier after you take them off the oven.
- Store in an airtight container to keep the cookies crunchy
Optional: you can dip these little cookies into melted chocolate. I feel dark chocolate works best with the taste of these cookies.
Invite some friends over for a Dutch pikkujoulu tonight and don’t forget to put your shoe in front of the fireplace! Hopefully you’ll get a pleasant surprise!!