This year’s arrival of the good Saint Sinterklaas (the bearded guy who brings us presents to celebrate his birthday on 5th December) was preceded by a nationwide debate about whether or not it’s appropriate for him to have black helpers “Zwarte Pieten”. Is the partnership voluntary on their side or are they enslaved by the saint? And wouldn’t it be better to make them blue or green in order to prevent offending anybody?
Being neither black nor Dutch, I do not feel qualified to enter the debate. As a baker, however, I do have an opinion on pepernoten, the small cookies that Zwarte Pieten distribute among children.
First, it’s important to know that though the names pepernoten and kruidnoten are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Kruidnoten are smaller, round and crisp. Pepernoten are a larger, almost square and somewhat chewy.
But whether you want to bake pepernoten or kruidnoten, you’ll need to make the speculaas spice mix first. I have previously shared two recipes, but this time I used this one, mainly because it contains white pepper and I feel that cookies called “pepernoten” should contain at least a pinch of pepper. On top of the speculaas mixture, there’s even more cinnamon and aniseed – that might seem an almost inadvisable amount of spices for a fairly moderate amount of dough, but since the spices are what makes pepernoten pepernoten, just go with it. I have used part spelt flour in the recipe and added tangerine zest because tangerines are as knitted to the sinterklaas-feast as speculaas spices are and add even more flavor.
If you make the speculaas spice mix, you’ll have plenty, so go ahead and make the speculaas cookies or honey almond speculaas pie. I also sometimes put the spice mix in my latte in lieu of pumpkin spice.
makes about 65
120 g (1 cup) whole spelt flour
130 g (1cup) all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp speculaas spice mix
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground aniseed
4 tbsp buttermilk
100 g (1/3 cup) honey
1 egg yolk
grated zest of one tangerine (preferably organic) or substitute orange
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360 F)
In a medium bowl, sift both flours with baking soda, salt and spices. In another bowl or jar, whisk together buttermilk, honey, egg yolk and the tangerine zest. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough will be somewhat sticky. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a fat sausage and cut in thirds. Roll one third at a time into a thinner rope, about the thickness of your thumb. Cut the rope into approximately equal pieces and roll each piece into a little ball. Place the balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, putting them quite close to each other and flattening them slightly. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes, until just beginning to color – don’t leave them too long or they’ll become hard. Leave to cool and store in an air-tight container.