Tonight Saint Nicholas will spur his valiant white horse Amerigo onto the picturesque roofs of the Netherlands. At nighttime his loyal helper Piet will slide down the chimney to leave presents in the shoes that children have left by the fireplace. Besides presents, Piet will also leave some typical Dutch sweets and cookies. Here are the ten most popular treats for the evening of December 5.
1. Pepernoten (pepper nuts)
These rusk-shaped treats have nothing to do with pepper or nuts. Makes sense, doesn’t it? They shouldn’t be confused with kruidnoten either, as the two are quite different (see no. 2). So what are pepernoten? Think dough, aniseed, cloves, cinnamon and sugar combined into a chewy treat that hardens when you leave it out of the cookie jar for too long. Small chance of that happening.
2. Kruidnoten (ginger nuts)
Kruidnoten are tiny gingerbread cookies, but even better. In fact, they are a must-have during Sinterklaas. Spices include ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cardamom. Kruidnoten covered in milk chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate are even more popular. Highly addictive but hey, Saint Nick only comes around once a year.
3. Chocoladeletter (chocolate letter)
When you leave your shoe for Sinterklaas, chances are that he will give you the first initial of your name made out of chocolate. Initially made from pastry, these letters changed over time into chocolate versions that are either elaborately decorated works of art, filled with marzipan or hazelnuts, or plain letters that Sinterklaas buys in bulk at the local supermarket.
4. Banketletter (puff pastry letter)
Those of you preferring pastry over chocolate can ask Sinterklaas for a banketletter. Made of flaky puff pastry, this letter is filled with a creamy almond paste and dusted with sugar. As most people nowadays buy chocolate letters (see no. 3), the choice of banketletters is limited to the letter S (for Sinterklaas) or M (for mother). Sometimes this treat is simply shaped like a bar, in which case it’s called a banketstaaf.
5. Taai taai (chewy gingerbread cookies)
As for flavour, taai taai is similar to pepernoten (see no. 1) but a lot bigger. Traditionally, taai taai is shaped like a doll which is called a taai taai pop. You do need strong teeth to be able to eat taai taai, as the name literally means ‘tough tough’. Be prepared to chew and then chew some more.
6. Marsepein (marzipan)
Marsepein is made of sugar and almond meal or almond extract. For the occasion of Sinterklaas, marsepein is often shaped into colourful fruit, vegetables, small figurines, animals, fastfood or other items. The latest marzipan designs include, for example, mobile phones and cars.
7. Borstplaat (fondant candy)
Borstplaat is a large fondant candy that is usually shaped like a heart, although any form, flavour or colour is possible depending on the creativity of the baker. Quality borstplaat is made of sugar, condensed milk and butter, but more commercial and cheaper versions are made of fondant. It has a grainy texture, is medium-hard, and tastes very-very-very sweet.
8. Speculaas (ginger cookies)
Also known as speculoos, these thin, crunchy ginger cookies carry the image of a windmill or figurine. Spices added to the cookie dough are the same as those used for kruidnoten (see no. 2): cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. Slivered almonds cover the back of the cookie, providing additional crunchiness and flavour. Many Dutch eat them all year round – who can blame them.
9. Gevulde speculaas (filled speculaas)
Gevulde speculaas uses the same dough as regular speculaas, but instead of baking smaller cookies, the dough is used for baking the top and bottom of a bigger creation. The filling consists of almond paste – the same stuff used for a banketletters. To serve, cut the gevulde speculaas into small squares.
10. Bisschopswijn (bishop’s wine)
Sinterklaas certainly knows how to keep warm during cold Dutch winter nights. Bisschopswijn is the Dutch version of mulled wine or German glühwein, made of red wine, oranges, lemon and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, aniseed and vanilla. Best served hot (but don’t bring it to a boil), and then just sit back and feel the glow.
© Annemarie Latour