The sack of Sinterklaas
Here in Belgium we have a tradition that might seem kind of weird, called Sinterklaas. There has already been a lot of commotion about the “good man” in the Benelux, where the Santa-lookalike gets celebrated. If you have never heard of him, I will tell you all about it, but it’s an awkward and bumpy ride.
Well… He’s supposed to be a Saint that brings candy and gifts from Spain. Every year around mid-November he arrives from Spain on his boat filled with gifts and his entourage. Why Spain? Well, because he also brings oranges and mandarins. From that moment on, as a kid, you may place your shoe accompanied with a carrot and a beer, right near the fire place. Those are little gifts for Sinterklaas helpers, his horse who gets the carrot and “zwarte piet” (literally translated as “Black Pete”) who gets the beer. There are many helpers “Zwarte Pieten”, but there is one main-helper and all the others have there own specialty.
The legend said Sinterklaas would come to your house bearing gifts and candy along with his helpers and his horse, who is called “Slecht-weer-vandaag” which translates to “Bad-weather-today”. As if this all isn’t cray cray enough he will bring you the gifts in the night, riding across the roofs, on his horse! He will send his helper “Zwarte Piet” to climb through the chimney, so that he could replace the carrot and the beer with a cool toy and candy. But that’s basically just a warm-up because on December 6th when it’s Sinterklaas his birthday, you could place an empty plate instead of a shoe and you would get lots of big gifts and candy.
By now you probably would understand that this is all a myth and b***shit. In reality this was our parents fooling us into believing this crap so that we would behave. Only the good kids would get the presents and the bad kids would be punished by “Zwarte Piet”. If you misbehave he would put you in a real big bag and take you with him to Spain till next year. Parents in the Benelux will do whatever it takes to trick there kid into believing in Sinterklaas. One time, my mom secretly invited a friend of hers over to throw some candy in our living room and then disappear. I can assure you, as a five year old, your mind is blown!
As if this all still isn’t enough, the commotion in Belgium gets bigger every year. All because of the fact that “Zwarte Pieten” for years were impersonated by black people. Or mainly white people that would paint their selves all black. Hundreds of years ago the legend used real black people as slaves. Over the years they luckily pinned the dark skin of “Zwarte Piet” on the soot they got all over their faces after climbing all those chimneys. For the past five years they changed the name “Black Pete” to “Soot Pete” in some cities. But a lot of people are mad because there tradition is broken. There even are demonstrations here in Belgium and The Netherlands. Some people even went to jail for it.
I really would like to look at all the positive stuff Sinterklaas brought us. Maybe it’s not really okay to lie to your kids but it also has something really magical about it. A little bit like a fairy tale. However, I would like to talk about the special kind of candy he brought. This recipe is very special to me because it brings out memories and is a local recipe. Speculaas is kind of like the gingerbread to Santa. It is a specialty with many spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, cardamom and white pepper mixed. I am going to up the game and make it even more special. I will be making Hasseltse Speculaas. This is a softer and thicker cookie than the normal Speculaas. The origin of this specialty is oriented in “Hasselt”. A beautiful city in the east of Belgium where I went to school.
You can create the spice-mix on your own;
- 10 parts cinnamon
- 2 parts nutmeg
- 2 parts clove
- 1 part ginger
- 1 part cardamon
- 1 part white pepper
Or just buy it in the shop.
For 12 speculazen;
- 125 gram butter (not margarine)
- 500 gram regular flour
- 1 egg
- 75 ml milk
- 300 gram brown sugar
- 1 package backing powder
- 10 gram honey
- pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons speculaas-spices
- 100 gram almond-flakes (75 gram in the dough + 25 gram topping)
This is a really simple recipe, take a bowl and kneed all of the ingredients together. Only the 25 gram almonds should stay aside. If you want, you can give your dough a night’s rest. Ain’t nobody got time for that? No problem! It just makes them extra fluffy but they are perfect even without the night’s rest.
Roll balls that are about 100 gram. Create oval-looking cookies, dip them in the remaining 25 gram of almonds and place them on a baking tray. Leave enough spacing in between the cookies.