Nicholas lived in the fourth century and was bishop of Myra, now in southwestern Turkey. Nothing else is of historic certainty, although his veneration in the East can be traced to the sixth century. A fictitious biography written by Methodius in the ninth century contains all the miracles and legends we now associate with St. Nicholas. The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to St. Nicholas, and his legend is particularly strong in Holland and Belgium and throughout Europe. In Holland, St. Nicholas has a helper who hands out cookies before the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6.
Here is a recipe for Speculaas, a cookie handed out by St. Nicholas and eaten between December 6 and Christmas Day.
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup condensed milk
4 tbsp cinnamon
1 pinch each nutmeg, cloves, salt
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup slivered almonds, crushed
Mix together the sugars, the shortening and the butter. Add the condensed milk and spices and gradually blend in the flour and baking soda. Crush the almonds with a rolling pin and mix in. The dough will be somewhat stiff. Roll into logs covered with plastic or waxed paper.
Leave in refrigerator overnight.
Cut into slices and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees F for around 10 minutes. Traditionally Speculaas are imprinted with some pattern created by a wooden mold (before baking). If you imprint the cookies with a mold, they will look better.
Makes about 80 cookies.