November is upon us, and in the Netherlands that means we are getting ready for the feast of Saint Nicholas (“Sinterklaas”), celebrated on the 5th of december. Saint Nicholas comes with a lot of traditional baking and candy. His helper Piet throws the stuff into rooms when you least expect it. Pepernoten (“pepper nuts”) are one of the pillars of Sinterklaas baking, a small, crunchy cookie flavored with speculaas spices. If you don’t have access to this blend, you can make your own. The Dutch eat LOADS of these every year. Pepernoten are so popular that supermarkets now stock them in August – a controversial decision which has led to protest from traditionalists.
To be really honest here, these pepernoten should actually be called kruidnoten, but no one in the Netherlands really makes the distinction. “Real” pepernoten are tougher, contain aniseed and are healthier for you. It’s similar to “taai-taai”, a tough and chewy type of cookie. The real pepernoten have declined in popularity in recent years, I think their jaw-hurting abilities might have something to do with that.
You’ll notice the mandarin in the photos. I am OBSESSED with mandarins. They are pretty much what makes the holiday season for me. Mandarins and pepernoten together smell like my childhood, the nostalgia!
The recipe below can be easily veganfied: just swap the milk and butter for a dairy-free alternative and you’re all set! For more info on Sinterklaas, check out this Wikipedia page.
150 gr all-purpose flour
75gr dark brown sugar
60 gr unsalted butter, diced
approx. 3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp speculaas spice blend
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 175C/350F/Gas 3 and grease a baking tray.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix these together so they are distributed evenly.
3. Add the butter and rub it into the dry mixture with your hands until you get a sand-like consistency.
4. Add the milk, and knead until the dough has come away from the bowl.
5. Roll the dough into little marble sized balls between your hands and place them on the baking tray, leaving some space between each ball. Bake the pepernoten in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack.