The Dutch embrace it all and make their way to the mall to shop till they drop and return home with many a gift, that plenty a spirit will lift.
Does this tradition ring a bell? Well, maybe if you hear his name your X-masses will never be the same;
Sinterklaas is what he's called...
Please don't be too appalled Dear Santa and elves When you see yourselves reflected in this feast that is politically incorrect to say the least.
For Sinterklaas - indeed- is the reason why A guy who goes "ho ho" stops by on your shores; his boat is now a sled, the horse became reindeer with noses red. All devoid of that annoyed "black Pete", made obsolete by elves who can show themselves without any accidental tourist dropping jaws 'cause they see their Santa Claus fretting in such an anachronistic setting.
Here in the old world, tradition reigns and black Pete, alas, remains... However racist it may seem; rest assured the theme at the root of all of this, is equal and Santa is just a better sequel to a storm of giving and sharing, so let that be your bearing!
Give and share, share and give, and live a full life void of strife!
There are many traditional baking goods associated with Sinterklaas. Butter fondant, chocolate letters, chocolate fondant frogs and mice (nobody seems to know where they came from) and pepernoten. There are three varieties of them floating around, going from rather chewy and lebkuchen-like, to crunchy and easy to eat. The traditional pepernoot is right in the middle and made with harshorn salt (yes, we use Rudolf's antlers to make cookies). This is the king of all rising agents when it comes to strength.
Since baking with hartshorn salt involves a chemical reaction to cause your kitchen to smell like ammonia for about a minute during the bake, many people are a bit wary to use it. Rest assured that there is no harm done; open your kitchen window to get rid of this volatile gas even faster. No traces of it will be left in the pepernoten. For those interested in trying it; King Arthur sells Hartshorn salt as "baker's ammonia" on their site.
Here's the video recipe.
Traditional Pepernoten (big batch)
1 kg. all purpose flour 500 gr. honey 300 gr. sugar 3 eggs 15 gr. hartshorn salt 1½ ts cinnamon ¾ ts cloves 1 ts white pepper pinch of: nutmeg coriander ginger all spice cardamom 100 gr. confectioners sugar a little water. Method
Warm the honey on a low heat together with the sugar, the eggs, hartshorn salt and all the spices, untill the sugar has melted. Mix well. Sift through the flour in parts and mix well until the stiff dough comes together (be careful not to wreck your KitchenAid on this dough!).
Preheat the oven to 190° C and grease two sheet pans. Form 2 cm balls out of the dough, place them on the sheet pan, keeping enough space between them (at least 1 cm). Bake the pepernoten for about 15- 20 minutes in the middle rack of your oven until golden brown.
Right after baking let them cool on a rack. Bring some confectioners sugar diluted in a little water to the boil, mix until smooth and brush the pepernoten with it to give them a nice finish.
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The kids no longer living with us, I get late into Christmas mode. No Adventskranz (traditional wreath with 4 candles lit for each Sunday before Christmas) on the table, no calendar window to open. Holiday baking happens usually in a rush on the 23. and 24th, but this year we are invited for Christmas dinner, and nobody's around to eat all the goodies (not counting a dog that would LOVE to help us with that task!).
Having to limit my output I decided on two of the best: Mohnstollen (poppy seed stollen) and Lebkuchen (German spice cookies). Before I came to Maine I never made either of them, stollen I always got from my mother, and I never cared too much for Lebkuchen. If Cooks Illustrated had not published a recipe for German spice cookies last year, I would never have dreamed of making them. Sheer curiosity prompted me to try it ("Americans and German Lebkuchen, haha!").
Reducing the sugar just a little, I followed the recipe, and the result was - incredibly good! Instead of the chewy, dry-ish store-bought stuff I sometimes had at home, this was a delicate, moist cookie, where you could actually taste the toasted hazelnuts; and the spices were spicy in a good way, harmonious, not crude. Last year we ate them so fast, I had to make two batches, and gave some to the nice people from A & B Naturals (the store that sells my breads), too.
To find a perfect recipe for Mohnstollen was not easy - there are so many of them. I settled on one whose ingredients I liked best, from a German cooking magazine's website (essen&trinken.de). But I would add an overnight fermentation, reduce the sugar, and exchange half of the raisins with cranberries for a little bit of tartness. So far so good! But what about the poppy seed filling? Germans always use Dr. Oetker's "Mohnback", a ready-made poppy seed mix you can buy everywhere. Fortunately the "internets" yielded a recipe for home made poppy mix, too, with almond paste, semolina flour, milk and eggs.
Our Cuisinart coffee mill that we were about ready to trash - it did a miserable job with the coffee beans - now got it's second chance. And, lo and behold, it ground the poppy seeds as if it were made for just that. The last ingredient I had to find was candied citrus peel. Our supermarket had only some tutti frutti mix left, full of Maraschino cherries (I hate them). Again, Google, helper of the clueless, linked me to a recipe.
Candied orange peel
The Mohnstollen turned out as good as expected, I sold some, too - and I won't tell my mother that it's better than hers.