Saint Nicholas is referred to by many names throughout Europe such as Sinterklaas in the Netherlands or Nikolaus in Germany. On the night of December 5th, children put their shoes or a special SaintNicholas´ boot (Nikolausstiefel) in front of the fireplace or the front door to find them filled with traditional, seasonal sweet treats, clementines, oranges, apples, nuts and small presents the next morning (December 6th).
To mark this very special day, over the years I have baked a number of different treats. I love the Dutch Kruidnoten (Spice Nuts/Cookies - recipe HERE) or the Belgian Speculoos (Spice Cookies formed in special wooden moulds - recipe HERE), this year I have lost my heart to these 'Pains d'Épices de Saint Nicholas' - literally translated 'Saint Nicholas' Gingerbread'. The recipe hails form the Alsace region (France) and its basically a honey gingerbread dough, cooled, rolled out, cut out, baked and decorated. Easy as they are, these traditional cookies make formidable gifts on Saint Nicholas' feast day.
Pains d'Épices de Saint Nicolas - Saint Nicholas Gingerbread (Nikolauslebkuchen)
- 500g AP (plain) flour, plus some to roll out the cookies (OR use white spelt flour, around here 'Type 630')
- 2 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of fine sea salt
- 200g superfine (baking) sugar
- 16g pure vanilla sugar
- 1 tbsp Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground anise
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 250g runny (liquid) honey
- 100 ml water
- 150g powdered sugar and some more water for the glaze
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, vanilla sugar, and all the spices.
- Then add the honey and half the water. Knead the dough by hand or with the dough hooks of your hand mixer. If it seems too dry, add more of the water (up to 100ml).
- Wrap the dough in kitchen wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or longer).
- Pre-heat your oven to 180° C and line two baking (cookie) sheets with baking parchment.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 1 cm thickness, cut out the cookie shapes, place on your prepared baking sheets and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes - the cookies should be puffed by not hard or dark brown.
- Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on a cooling rack, once they have cooled, place them directly on the cooling racks, mix the powdered sugar with some water and brush the cookies. Once the icing has set but is still wet, place a Saint Nicholas' paper cut-out on each cookie. Let dry completey and keep in a cookie tin in a cool place or gift wrap individually.
Like every year, our kids, as most of their frineds, lined up their big winter boots last night and this morning, their boots were miraculously filled with homemade Pains d'Épices de Saint Nicolas, Belgian chocolates, oranges, clementines, walnuts, peanuts and a few small gifts.
Saint Nicholas is famous for his many acts of charity, one of which involved a poor distraught man who had three daughters and who couldn´t provide a proper dowry. As Saint Nicholas learned of their plight, he came to their aid by throwing three small sacks of money through their window while they were asleep. So, in the spirit of Saint Nicholas it's seems like a wonderful and much beloved annual tradition to share some of our treats with friends and collegues, this year's most popular treat for sharing is lovingly decorated Saint Nicholas Gingerbread.
Bonne Fête Saint Nicolas! Have a nice Saint Nicholas' Day! Euch allen einen schönen Nikolaustag!