Friday, 6 December 2013

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

As is tradition in many European countries, St. Nicholas leaves coins and treats for children on Dec. 6. He is the legendary forerunner of our modern-day Santa Claus. He was the Bishop of Myra (now part of Turkey) and had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. He is the patron saint of children (but also students, sailors, archers, pawnbrokers and thieves!).

Last year on this date, I made Speculaas Koekjes (Dutch Spice Cookies) but I had to make a slice-and-bake version because I didn't have a cookie mold in the shape of Sinterklaas. 

I still don't. I really thought I'd find one in my shoe this morning, or even in my stocking for Christmas last year but the only shoes that were filled last night were Charlie's! Even though my family has never celebrated St. Nicholas Day, my love for cookies led me to this holiday and its traditions (and my son was more than happy to join). 

I guess I will have to get a mold or stamp myself. They are making a comeback, from the searches I've done. There are many on eBay, vintage and new, made of everything from wood or ceramic to metal or even silicone. I much prefer the look of the old ones; but the new ones might be easier to use. This calls for more research. The mold/stamp above is from Rycraft, a family-owened business that produces terra cotta stamps in a variety of designs. Again, I'm going with traditional — St. Nicholas all the way!

Between decorating the tree for another upcoming holiday, and baking 5 dozen Cinnamon Swirl Cookies Tuesday, I didn't have much energy left for cookie baking Wednesday but I managed to get two doughs made and stashed in the fridge. I'm going to make Sugar Cookie Cutouts this weekend (it's a looooong process) and I baked Grandma Baker's Overnight Cookies yesterday.

Overnights are SO easy. It only takes a few minutes to whip up the dough, which is made from simple ingredients everyone is bound to have on hand (brown sugar, eggs, butter, flour, baking soda). They also call for cream of tartar, a funny spice that usually winds up near the back of my spice cabinet because it's not that much in demand. Technically known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, its a white owner that is most commonly used to add stability to egg whites. In this recipe, it keeps the sugar from crystallizing and gives the dough a creamy texture.

I added pecans to half the dough because Charlie really likes these cookies but he doesn't like nuts. I shaped the dough into logs, sealed them in plastic wrap, and put them in my trusty paper towel tubes before placing them in the fridge — overnight. Since I was finished for the evening, Charlie and I had a Christmas video marathon: "Frosty the Snowman," "Frosty Returns" and "It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown."

The next morning was a breeze — just slice, bake, slice, bake — it was all very assembly-line-ish. I topped both varieties with sugar crystals to make them a bit more special for the holidays.

This year I halved the recipe and still wound up with 3 dozen of each type! That is one family-sized recipe Grandma Baker used. Since I'm shooting for 20 different cookies this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Our Cookie Journal, I'm mostly sticking to single batches. Naturally, there will be exceptions (Chocolate Chip Cookies, for sure!).

So, I hope you will have a Happy St. Nicholas Day and bake some Speculaas, or try my Grandma Baker's Overnight Cookies, which I have named Cookie No. 3 of 20 in the 20-cookie celebration of the cookie diary's anniversary.

His and hers: Mine have pecans (left) and his don't.

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