December 5 is the date of the Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) celebration in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas is a bearded fellow dressed in red who gives presents to children. Sounds familiar? The Coca Cola company moved him to Christmas and the North Pole, but Santa Claus was definitely modeled after Sinterklaas. Saint Nicholas was an actual bishop in Turkey in the 4th century, but for some strange reason Dutch children are made to believe that he arrives each year mid November by steamboat from Spain. His servants are black (white people with their faces painted black), which has led to a big controversy about the political correctness of this children’s holiday.

The Sinterklaas holiday comes with different kinds of sweets, and the most popular kind are kruidnoten, which are incorrectly most often called pepernoten. (Real Pepernoten are made from rye flour and are flavored with aniseed.) Kruidnoten are very small cookies flavored with a speculaas spice mix (which is often called speculoos in English speaking countries). The ‘black petes’ (the servants) throw the kruidnoten on the floor for the children to run after, pick up, and eat.

The amount of the spice mix in kruidnoten is usually less than in actual speculaas, but in my recipe I have included the full amount for more flavor. There is no exact recipe for this spice mix and you can tweak it to your own taste or availability of the spices, although cinnamon is definitely mandatory. For best results the dough should mature in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours to allow the flavors to develop.


160 grams (3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp) brown sugar

140 grams (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter (cold)

60 ml (4 Tbsp) milk

3 grams (1/2 tsp) salt

275 grams (1 5/6 cup) pastry flour

20 grams (8 tsp) speculaas spice mix

5 grams (1/2 Tbsp) baking powder

For 20 grams (8 tsp) speculaas spice mix

4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

1/2 tsp ground mace

1/2 tsp ground coriander


Combine the ingredients for the spice mix and stir to mix.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the spice mix.

Process until homogeneous.

Add the butter in cubes.

Process until the mixture looks like coarse sand.

Add the milk.

Process until the dough comes together.

Turn out the dough onto plastic wrap and shape into a ball.

Wrap the ball of dough and refrigerate for 24-48 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Allow the dough to come to room temperature for about an hour before proceeding (otherwise it would be difficult to handle). Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF (fan forced). Shape the dough into small balls with your hands.

Arrange the balls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave enough space between the balls as they will rise.

Bake for 20 minutes at 150ºC/300ºF (fan forced).

Allow to cool.

The kruidnoten are ready to eat once they are at room temperature. Store in an airtight container (if there are any left).


The secrets to good homemade Belgian fries are to fry them twice in beef tallow.


10 thoughts on “Kruidnoten

  1. Spice cookies from northern Europe/Scandanavia have always featured on our Christmas table thanks to Swedish friends. I promise myself every year to try making then gluten free.


  2. Lovely stuff Stefan. If one were of a certain age and from the British Isles one would remember the TV show The Black and White Minstrel Show. All black faced white people doing song and dance routines on stage. I don’t believe there was any harm intended but the world has moved along a bit since then.


  3. [biggest smile!] Well I was taught from the time I was able to utter a word . . . ‘piparkoogid’ . . . .rather simply worded as ‘pepper cookies’ 🙂 ! So many years after: there would not be a Christmas unless . . etc . . .


  4. “If there are any left” is right, Stefan. They’re the perfect size for nibbling and I bet they just seem to disappear, especially with the spices you’ve used. With these cookies in the oven, I bet the aroma in your kitchen brought back plenty of Sinterklaas memories. 🙂


  5. ‘Black Pete’, Sinterklaas’s helper, was in the legends a chimney sweep. This is the reason for his blackness, and there was no racial overtone or imitation ever intended. Perhaps if he’d been called ‘Sooty Pete’ people might have understood…

    In the old legends it’s Pete who comes down the chimney (remember, he’s a chimney sweep…) and it was the commercialisation of the legend that transferred this aspect to St Nick.


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