Tuesday, December 20, 2022

What do Dutch Windmill Cookies have to do with Christmas?

If you’ve ever bitten into a home-baked speculaas, or Dutch windmill cookie, you need no convincing that every Christmas should include these tasty treats. What do Dutch windmills have to do with Christmas? More than it may seem. 

To understand the connection, let’s go back to the fourth century, when the real St. Nicholas gave away his substantial inheritance to feed people in need. Nicholas of Patara became Bishop of Myra, a town that was then in Greece but is now part of Turkey. Nicholas devoted himself to God at a time when that was dangerous. He suffered for his faith under the brutality of the Roman emperor Galerius, who wanted to stamp out Christianity. Nicholas’s many kindnesses became the stuff of legend and eventually inspired the modern-day Santa Claus.

Every year, In parts of northern Europe, folks celebrate the life of this noble man. On St. Nicholas Eve (December 5th), children put out letters for St. Nicholas and put out shoes, stockings, or plates in anticipation of the gifts that will fill them. Before retiring, they offer carrots or grass for St. Nicholas’s donkey or horse. The children wake on St. Nicholas Day to speculaas cookies, candies, and other gifts in the vessels they set out the night before or under their pillows.

But why bake windmill cookies for Christmas? 

According to tradition, Nicholas lived in a windmill by the sea. By this simple reminder, the people of Holland honor the memory of a noble man who sought to live humbly, like his Savior, who was born in a lowly manger. 

The history of speculaas cookies is wonderful, but I would bake them for the taste alone. 
If you’ve ever eaten a bland, commercially-baked windmill cookie, you don’t really know what true speculaas tastes like. 

Some people lump speculaas in with gingerbread cookies and some confuse the recipes. Speculaas does contain ginger, but its flavor is much more complex. The dough is laced by a centuries-old spice mixture known as speculaaskruiden (speculaas spices), which includes cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg. You read that right. Speculaas cookies contain pepper. Don't knock it before you try it. In telling you, these cookies are heavenly. 

Various theories exist as to why Dutch windmill cookies are called speculaas, which probably came from the Latin “speculum,” which means mirror. Pressing the dough into wooden molds or imprinting it with an embossing roller does create a mirrored pattern. Those are two traditional practices, but you don’t need special equipment to make these time-honored treats. Using regular cookie cutters works just fine, as I can attest. Other options are to cut the dough with a knife, or form it with your hands. This year, I ordered a windmill mold which I’m a little nervous to try. Dusting the mold with rice flour before adding the dough does the trick At least, it did in the online video I watched.

I can’t recommend this speculaas recipe enough. I’ve used it for years. Baking the cookies makes my house smell like Christmas, and m
y family's eyes light when they come out of the oven. Why not add this delightful treat to your own Christmas celebration?

Over to You

What is your favorite Christmas cookie? What memories does it bring back for you?

What’s New with Janalyn Voigt

I’m almost finished shopping and decorating for Christmas. Between attending events and visiting with friends and family, I’m stealing away to read through the manuscript for The Whispering Wind one last time. My publisher gives me the opportunity to proofread my work after all editing changes are finished. Such careful scrutiny requires patience and the ability to focus. I’ll have more of both once the Christmas tasks are finished. Meanwhile, here’s me wishing you a very Merry Christmas. See you next month.

Janalyn Voigt

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today, and Merry Christmas! Those cookies sound delicious! I used to make a big variety of cookies to fill gift baskets. One of my top favorite was spritz cookies, which are basically a butter cookie. I don't make them any more, I would eat them all.