“Jolly old St. Nicholas…” is the main character in the tradition behind Spekulatius, the spiced cookie that’s usually served during the Christmas holidays.
Spekulatius originated from the Netherlands, called there as Speculaas, St. Nicholas is remembered as the Bishop with the white hair and beard who went around town bringing gifts to the poor.
The tradition of gift-giving continues on today, where people share the cookies with their family and friends during the celebration of St. Nicholas Day (December 6).
The Spekulatius is made from wheat flour or almond flour, with butter, brown sugar and a blend of spices. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and mace are the typical spices used in the cookie.
It is typically flat, cut from a wooden mold featuring an image or figure from the St. Nicholas legends. Common Spekulatius figures are a windmill, a ship, a farmhouse, an elephant, and a horse.
The name “Speculatius” and “Speculaas” have many possible origins. One theory is that the name is derived from the Latin word “speculum”, meaning mirror, which refer to the cookie images as a mirrored bas-relief cut into a wooden stamp used to form the cookie.
Another derivation is from the Latin word “speculator”, which may mean bishop, referring to St. Nicholas. A third derivation is from the Dutch word “specerij”, meaning spice.
To make the cookie dough, the spices are mixed with butter and sugar. A separate mixture of flour and baking soda or powder is then added, taking special care that the dough doesn’t warm up too fast. The dough is cooled overnight to give it time to absorb the spices.