Sinterklaas arrived in town a couple of weeks ago. He's staying locally in Helmond castle until 'Pakjes Avond' on 5th December - the evening when children receive presents... if they've been good. A big part of the whole event are the pepernoten that all the Zwarte Pieten (Sinterklaas's helpers) give out to little children, and throw around the place for kids to find. Like mince pies are associated with Christmas in England, so pepernoten are with Sinterklaas. They are spicy little biscuits - the perfect size for little hands.
We decided to make some of our own again this year. they're easy and fun to make and fill the house with a fantastically seasonal warm smell. This great recipe comes from a children's activity book associated with the Sinterklaas Journaal - the nightly Sinterklaas news programme for children that starts about three weeks before Pakjes Avond - helping to get the children excited. There are a couple of very Dutch ingredients in this recipe that you might not be able to find elsewhere. Firstly the spice mix - this is used to make a whole range of Dutch biscuits and pastries - and is called Speculaaskruiden - the key ingredients of which are ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. The other Dutch ingredient is 'stroop' - which means syrup. Here, this very dark, rich syrup is mainly used on pancakes. It's thick and sweet, with a hint of the bitter richness of black treacle.
75g butter (room temp)
100g brown sugar (called ' basterdsuiker' in Dutch...)
2 dsp speculaaskruiden (the spice mix)
pinch of salt
1.5 dsp 'stroop' syrup
4 tbsp milk
250g self raising flour
1. Put the butter, sugar, spice mix and salt in a big. Cream together until smooth and light.
2. Add the syrup and the milk. Mix together and then add the flour and kneed into a ball of dough. You might need to add a little more milk if it is too dry.
3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave it to rest in the fridge for 30 mins. Then break off little pieces and roll into them into a ball in your hands. Squash them down a little when you put them on the baking tray to stop them rolling around when you put them in the oven.