Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…
However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!
I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.
Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!
But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).
And now for the recipe itself!
St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies
Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
- Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
- Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
- Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
- Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
- Preheat oven to 325° F
- Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)