As you probably know, this is where the Christmas stocking tradition comes from. St Nicholas is said to have placed his secret gifts of money, for the three girls, in their stockings or shoes, that were hung in front of the fire to dry. Although he certainly came down no chimney and Myra, in modern-day Turkey, where he was Bishop, was about as far from the North Pole as you can get, it's nice to remember that good old "Santa" has a genuine pedigree!
I am a day late in posting this but I have been baking some of those spiced St Nicholas cookies that they make so beautifully in Germany and the Netherlands and thought I might share them with you.
They are traditionally called "Speculatius" or "Speculaas" cookies as they should depict the figure or face of St Nicholas on them.
(The word means image, I think, in both German and Dutch.) They are traditionally made by pressing the dough into specially shaped and carved wooden moulds which are then banged on a work surface to release each shaped piece of dough before baking. I like the sound of these - Mrs T is always up for a bit of robust cooking action! - but didn't know where in the UK, I might obtain such a mould so I made do with getting D to cut out a template from a piece of plasticard, (snaffled from D's cavernous, model-making, resource stash), for me to cut round with a knife, to make a handful of proper St Nicholas-shaped biscuits and using a star-shaped cutter for the rest of the dough.
Details, as per the traditional pattern used on the Polish version of these, called "pierniki", were added to the bishopy ones with piped royal icing - an activity fraught with cursing, clouds of icing sugar and blobs of icing from the piping container going everywhere, in more or less, three equal proportions. Mrs T and intricate icing do not instinctively mix. Take out the "instinctively", actually. The results are homely and not exactly professional but fun nonetheless and H kindly (and swiftly) ate up the ones whose expressions looked worryingly imbecilic, where the episcopal slippers had mysteriously and alarmingly fused together, or where St Nicholas's crozier had a strange, wilted or bendy appearance!
The recipe for the biscuits came from here, a wonderful website full of stories and traditions about St Nicholas. I've used the German recipe rather than the Dutch one. I found three large eggs were enough for the dough quantities given, so I'd suggest only using the four specified, if your eggs are small. The dough is a really lovely one to work with and the presence of egg means that the cookies keep their cut-out shape nicely without spreading too much in the oven. Makes a lot though so if you don't want too many cookies, I'd make half or two-thirds quantities.
On the same website is a lovely reminiscence of a Belgian lady, now in her eighties, of St Nicholas's Day in Belgium in the 1930s - simple, fun and heart-warming and with a profound thread to it that perhaps seems rather out of place in the modern celebration of this season - moral effort and "Santa's" visiting no longer hunt together much. Ade Bethune's narrative is a beautiful and nostalgic reminder of bygone days and makes one wonder whether we haven't lost something rather precious. You can find it here.
Some of the biscuits are for eating now, some are for packaging up in sturdy jam jars and sending as little presents to friends and family. Not just any old jam jar, though. Jam jars given a colourful, hooky flowery hat.
I know, I know - these hats possibly fall into the category of mug and apple cosies! But I love them! They were so quick and such fun to hook up, I found I couldn't stop making them this week - they have filled in all sorts of odd moments, colourfully and happily, and I like them on the jars very much.
Makes them jolly and Christmassy but not in such a way that they are only suitable for Christmas, if you know what I mean. Jars make good containers for sending biscuits in the post if you pack them carefully and have a good sturdy box to contain them, I've found. Hope it works this year.
As you can see in the top pic, I had what I thought was a happy idea of adding a few silver cake decorating balls to the jars which I thought might lodge among the biscuits in a decorative kind of way. Predictably, of course, they've all pretty much fallen to the bottom. With a bit of luck, the tipping and turning of being in the post might redistribute them!
The pattern for the flowery covers is another of Sue Pinner's from her Granny Square Club (details of how to join here, as per my previous post) but Nicki Trench also has a pattern for jam jar covers in her "Cute And Easy Crochet" which I've used in the past, if you fancy hooking up a few. I prefer Sue's flowery ones, myself.
Even though the dough made loads of cookies, they seem to have disappeared very quickly - some have gone in the post, some have gone to a village Christmas bazaar, some are destined for a work event tomorrow, quite a lot seem just to have been eaten! Only thing to do is make some more to fill my remaining jars!
Wishing you all, a little belatedly, a happy Feast of St Nicholas!