Tag Archives: Sinterklaas

Pepernoten revisited!

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.

I didn't really have any Sinterklaas-themed backgrounds to use, so I went for orange-y for Dutchness.  Flawless logic.

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).

This bit takes a while.  But it's strangely therapeutic, too.

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.)

Spices: the key bit of a biscuit that's all about… wait for it… spices.

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.

Those three pepernoten didn't last very long after the photo was taken…

Pepernoten

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).

Ingredients

175g light brown sugar
110g butter
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

Directions

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!

Pepernoten everywhere!

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Sunday Smiles: Hurrah for science!

Sunday SmilesIt’s December you guys, and you know what that means?  No more bah-humbug, it’s time to get excited about everything Christmas!  The facebook shark fin icon in my sidebar even has its Santa hat on (hey, don’t judge, that took me a long time to draw last year – graphic design is not my forte…).

So, on to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • You know what else December means?  It means the end of Movember, which is very popular here in NZ.  And the end of Movember means goodbye to those moustaches, many of which were just plain creepy.  Don’t get me wrong, Movember is a worthy cause, but I’d be significantly more enthusiastic if there had been more Poirot moustaches.  Because those are awesome.  Paedophile-esque moustaches, not so much.
  • You know what really warmed my heart this week?  Reading about the Sesame Collider, which is a science collaboration between several different countries in the Middle East, including …, Iran and Israel.  The project is providing opportunities for academics to work together, even though their respective countries have more or less vowed to obliterate each other.  Definitely a win for science.  And dare I say it, could it be a tiny, tiny, little glimmer of hope for the Middle East?
  • How amazing is this idea of filling balloons with coloured water and freezing them?  I wonder if you could make swirly patterns with the dyes – you’d probably have to flash freeze them in a -80°C for the water to freeze quicker than the dye evens out (if that makes sense).  Anybody ever tried flash freezing a water balloon?  You know what else would be fun?  Adding glitter.  (Image source)

Oh my gosh awesome!  Can we add glitter?!

  • I really enjoyed these photos of ballerinas in NYC – the incongruity of the ballerinas in their surroundings is what makes the photos really interesting.  That said, I think the last one (which is probably the least incongruous) is my favourite, because of its serenity.  Sidenote: I wish I had even half the grace of a ballerina.  Further sidenote: why is there a car parked on the pavement in the sixth photo?
  • So you’re probably all utterly sick of Gangnam Style, but I came across a Dutch version a couple of weeks ago, and since it’ll be Sinterklaas on Wednesday, I think it’s time to share it: Zwarte Pieten Stijl.  By the way, if you’re not familiar with the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, I realise that this paragraph probably didn’t make much sense, and the video probably just came across as completely bizarre.  You can read a bit about about Sinterklaas here, if you’re interested.
  • And finally, now that it’s December, it looks like the Sky Tower is all excited about Christmas, too!  Yay!

Sky Tower all dressed up for Christmas!  (At least, I'm assuming that's why it's red and green…)

What made you smile this week?

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Pepernoten!

It’s December!  All things related to Christmas are now allowed and I’m no longer a total Scrooge.  But before we get to Christmas, there’s Sinterklaas…

It’s actually quite apt that my first proper recipe blog post is about a Dutch speciality – I was born in The Netherlands, you see.  We moved away before I turned two, so I don’t remember a great deal, but we were back for a few months when I was six and back again for my last four years of Secondary School.  And wherever we’ve lived there have been lots of Dutch people around.  So despite not actually being Dutch, Sinterklaas has always featured on my calendar.

According to the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) lives in Spain but comes to The Netherlands to celebrate his name day, accompanied by some of his helpers, the notorious Zwarte Piets, who basically just cause mayhem (I was terrified of them when I was six).  On the 5th of December, families will gather together and hand out a few presents that are cleverly wrapped up, often accompanied by a poem about the person receiving the gift.  It’s a whole ritual, and it’s a lot of fun!

In the lead up to Sinterklaas, children leave their shoes out every evening in the hope that they will be filled with biscuits by Sinterklaas through the night.  Well, I say children, but my Dad was always just as enthusiastic as I was about leaving his shoes out…  Pepernoten (loosely translates as “spice nuts”) are one of the traditional biscuits that are distributed at this time of year.  Of course, in The Netherlands, you can buy pepernoten in near-industrial quantities.  In the UK, you cannot.  Not even in small quantities.  I love pepernoten, and I have so many happy memories associated with them, so there’s really only one option…. To make them.

Pepernoten

I should warn you in advance – these take forever to make.  But they are so worth it!  I don’t particularly like aniseed, so I never put any in and they come out just fine.  Also, this recipe is all about the flavours of the spices, so I tend to be quite liberal when it comes to quantities…

Ingredients

175g brown sugar
3 tbsp milk
110g butter
2 tbsp treacle
275g self-rising flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
Pinch of ground coriander
½ tsp ground aniseeds (Optional)
2 pinches of salt

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Pour the milk, treacle, brown sugar and butter into a small saucepan.  Place on a very low heat and stir until it becomes a smooth mix.

3.  Mix the spices together with the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

4.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into the bowl and knead until it forms a firm and smooth dough (be careful at this point – I stupidly forgot that the treacle mix would be hot earlier, and enthusiastically plunged my hands right in.  Oops.)  Add pinches of salt during kneading.

5.  Make small round balls of dough (a bit bigger than a marble) and place them on a buttered baking tray.  Make sure that they are quite well spaced out in case they decide to melt into each other.

6.  Bake for about 12-15 mins, then allow them to cool and harden for about 1 ½ hours.

Enjoy!

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