Do you know what today is? It’s Sinterklaas! Which, unless you’re Dutch, have Dutch friends or have spent time in The Netherlands, probably doesn’t mean terribly much, and you can read a brief (and minorly sarcastic) explanation here. I was born in The Netherlands and have lived there for a few years, and even when we didn’t live in NL we had Dutch friends, so Sinterklaas always featured on my calendar when I was growing up. My favourite thing about Sinterklaas are pepernoten, which are little biscuits packed full of spices. They’re amazing. And they’re really difficult to find outwith NL.
We left NL for the last time when I started uni in St Andrews, and luckily in my first year Keely sent me a massive packet of pepernoten. But then her parents left NL. Which meant that my only source of pepernoten was if I made them myself. And so I turned to my recipe book which contains several different pepernoten recipes pilfered from various Dutch friends, and combined them. I discovered that pepernoten are actually remarkably easy to make, although rolling all the little balls does make them a little time-consuming (so worth it though, and if you have the time, I’d definitely suggest doubling the recipe from the offset).
The most crucial part of pepernoten is the spice mix, and in NL you can buy a specific spice mix for them. I obviously don’t have the special spice mix, but it’s easy enough to make using spices that you probably already have in your spice cupboard. Incidentally, these are technically called kruidnoten, but most people just call them pepernoten, myself included (so no need to get all pernickety with me). I make pepernoten every year now and attempt to spread general enthusiasm for Sinterklaas amongst whoever happens to be around to eat them. Although I don’t go the whole hog and dress up as a Zwarte Piet and throw them at people… (Although I’m sure the perplexed reaction would be highly entertaining, if awkward.)
This year my poor labmates fell victim to my general over-enthusiasm for Sinterklaas. To be honest, they were pretty willing victims because all it involved was scoffing pepernoten. Which is a remarkably easy task since they’re bite-sized and utterly moreish. I’ve actually posted about pepernoten before, in my very second post. I had a look at said post the other day and you can definitely tell I was new to blogging. Not that I’m any kind of expert now, but I like to think I’ve improved a little since then (although not in the conciseness department). So I decided I’d repost the recipe, this time with slightly more detailed instructions, an indication of how many pepernoten it actually makes and perhaps a few better photos.
Makes about 170 pepernoten
Adapted from various recipes in my recipe folder
I’d suggest just doubling the recipe from the offset because these are bite-sized and moreish – a dangerous combination! Dark brown sugar would probably work well instead of light brown sugar, but would result in a slightly more pronounced treacle-y flavour, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pepernoten are all about the spices, so feel free to be liberal with the quantities. The aniseed is optional – I’m not a huge aniseed fan so tend to leave it out, because I know I won’t use the rest of the jar, but the aniseed flavour itself doesn’t come through very strongly. These will keep well for a week or so in an airtight container (they would probably keep longer, but they’re unlikely to stay uneaten for more than a few days anyway).
175g light brown sugar
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp black treacle
275g self-rising flour + ½ tsp baking powder OR 275g all-purpose flour + 3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground aniseed (optional)
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground coriander
2 pinches of salt
1. Butter a couple of baking trays. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.
2. Add the brown sugar, cubed butter, milk and treacle in a saucepan. Melt together on a low heat, stirring. Remove from the heat once smooth.
3. Mix together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.
4. Once the treacle mixture has cooled a little (because enthusiastically plunging your hands into hot treacle just off the stove is not a smart idea. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, ahem), pour it into the bowl and knead together until it forms a smooth, fairly firm dough, adding pinches of salt during kneading.
5. Pinch of little bits of dough and roll them into small round balls about the size of a marble. Place them on the prepared baking trays leaving about 1.5 cm space between them. Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden (it’s normal if they look slightly cracked). Remove to a wire rack to cool completely – they’ll harden as they cool (I find that the pepernoten tend to slip through the wires on my cooling rack, so I usually place one over the top of the other, but perpendicular so that the wires cross over each other and stop any pepernoten from falling through).
Eet smakelijk and happy Sinterklaas!