- Janny de Moor - https://www.jannydemoor.nl/en -

Speculaas for Saint Nicolas






Saint Nicolas (Sint Nicolaas, Sinterklaas) is the Dutch version of Santa Claus, but his gifts are distributed on 5 December and are preceded during a fortnight by small presents in the shoes of the children who have put them piously ready the night before with some hay and a carrot for the Saint’s horse. In May already it is decided where the Saint will set foot on land in The Netherlands, supposedly coming from Spain in his steamer. He stands there clad in his bishop’s outfit,  surrounded by his servants, all called ‘Black Peter’, armed with sacks full of  sweets for all sweet children, such as chocolate letters, puff pastry filled with almond paste, marzipan, chewey chewey (taaitaai), and ‘speculaas’. The Saint rides on a white horse over the roofs of all houses, accompanied by his Peters who throw gifts through the chimneys into the children’s shoes. According to the children’s traditional Sinterklaas songs one of the expected gifts is a speculaas doll. Speculaas is formed in carved wooden moulds, such as dolls, or small mills. Hence the name, derived from Latin speculum (mirror). Also baked as a thick hard layer and then broken (brokken, ‘pieces’), or in a softer form and filled with almond paste: Gevulde speculaas (see recipe).

On the evening of 5 december the whole family gathers to receive presents which are accompanied with teasing poems supposedly written by the Saint and his Peters. At the start of the evening, a Peter’s hand throws pepernoten (pepper nuts, tiny balls, made from ‘speculaas’ dough, see recipe) through the half-opened door into the room.

In recent years this Dutch feast has to compete with Santa Claus who comes with Christmas, but is seen as a pagan intruder by most people. Many families see no other solution than to celebrate both – a rather expensive affair.

* Almond paste (Spijs):

200 g ground almonds; 200 g granulated sugar; 1 small egg; drop of bitter almond oil; pinch of grated lemon rind

Mix all ingredients and knead a smooth dough. Chill until use. Can be kept in the fridge for two weeks. Then it is advisable to use pasteurised egg (50 ml) and knead in a machine. Use left overs to fill pears or peaches and place under grill after having sprinkled them with icing sugar. Great with spongefingers, soaked in rum and whipped cream.


If you possess a wooden speculaas mould you can make dolls (speculaaspoppen) or cookies (speculaasjes) from the same dough. Bake these for about 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 175° C.

For pepernoten (pepper nuts hazelnut sized balls are rolled from the dough and divided over 2 baking sheets. Bake for about 15 minutes at 175 ˚C.