Traditional little cookies: kruidnoten

The feast of 'Sinterklaas' on December 6

'Sinterklaas' is a traditional Winter holiday figure still celebrated today in Belgium and the Netherlands.
He is an elderly man wit a long full white beard. He carries a big book that tells whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year. He traditionally rides a white gray and delivers the gifts to the children by riding his horse over the rooftops assisted by his helper 'Zwarte Piet' (black Pete)
Parallels have been drawn between the legend of 'Sinterklaas' and the figure of Odin, an important god to the Germanic people and worshiped in North and Western Europe prior to Christianization. 

For Belgian and Dutch children, it is customary to put one shoe in front of the fireplace on the 5th of december. The evening is called ‘Sinterklaasavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ (boxing evening).
Carrots, turnips or apples are put in the shoe as a treat for 'Sinterklaas' horse. The next morning the carrot would be gone and the children may find candy or a small present in their shoes.
When I was a child I used to go and choose the best looking carrot and turnip at the market. I always made sure there was a bottle of beer for 'Sinterklaas' helper 'Zwarte Piet'. The next morning, there were chunks bitten out of the carrot and turnip and the beer bottle was empty. How magical!
We all knew there was no Santa but we were firm believers of 'Sinterklaas'. I remember the disappointment I felt when I found out 'Sinterklaas' didn’t exist. I was in bed, trying to stay awake so I could see 'Zwarte Piet' as he came down our chimney. I didn’t see him, I heard my parents whispering about my present and where they were going to put it this year. I was so sad! I didn’t tell my parents "I knew" until the next year when they told me themselves.
In Belgium they say finding out that 'Sinterklaas' doesn't exist is the first disappointment you have in life. After that, you are a big girl or boy.

Typical 'Sinterklaas' treats traditionally include: mandarin oranges, kruidnoten, pepernoten, chocolate letters (the first letter of the child's name), speculaas, chocolate coins, marzipan figures and fruit and a figurine of 'Sinterklaas' made of chocolate.

The 'kruidnoten' (spiced nuts) are traditionally thrown into the corner of the room by the ' Zwarte Pieten', some say this was to warn of evil spirits.
These little round cookies date back to the Middle Ages due to the arrival of exotic spices such as pepper. Pepper was thought to possess aphrodisiacal powers and was therefore used to bake fertility cookies. These were thrown at newly weds on their wedding day alongside traditional fertility symbols like rice and flowers.
This throwing of fertility symbols had also been part of an old pagan sowing feast that was celebrated at the beginning of December. The throwing resembled the farmer that sows his fields and it was meant to invoke good spirits.

Under the influence of the Catholic Church the sowing feast had slowly been replaced in the 16th century by the 'Saint Nicholas feast'. But traces of the pagan tradition survived by throwing the then fashionable 'pepernoten'(similar to kruidnoten) around.

So this is my recipe for the little ‘kruidnoten’, if you need to warn of evil spirits or invoke good ones, you better get started.

What do you need
250 gr. self raising flour
125 gr. dark caster sugar
100 gr. good quality soft butter
3 tablespoons of milk
1 tablespoon ‘speculaas spice mix’ (see below)
a pinch of good quality salt

For the speculaas spice mix:
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground clove
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon aniseed

Mix all the ingredients together an taste, you can add more pepper or salt at this stage.
Preheat your oven to 160° C
Form little balls (1cm) of the dough and put them on grease paper on a baking tray.
Bake them for 30 minutes.
Optional: you can dip these little cookies into chocolate so they are coated. I feel dark chocolate works best with the taste of these cookies.
Store in an airtight container to keep the cookies crunchy

Don't forget to put your shoe by the fireplace tonight...

I gave these cookies to my co-workers


  1. There is the same tradition in Hungary. Santa Claus arrives on the night of December 5th with his two helpers, a good angel who helps with the presents and a mischievous, devil-like figure, called Krampusz who punishes bad kids. Santa Claus is generous with ‘good’ kids, but children who have been ‘naughty’ in the past year also receive a virgács (a bunch of golden twigs).

    Traditionally, children polish their boots and put them in the window or in front of the door on the evening of December 5th. Santa Claus secretly fills them with little presents during the night for children to find in the morning.

    I love the cookie recipe! :)

  2. Zita, so great to learn about the Hungarian version of 'Sinterklaas'! I like the fact that Santa Claus has a good angel and a devil-like figure helping him. There are some stories about our 'Sinterklaas' that his helper was actually a mischievous creature and that this was the reason for him to be painted black.

  3. Beautiful post Regula!!! Thank you for sharing these holiday traditions. I so love the little "things" in your pictures the candies the red knitted shoe... happy Sinterklaas Regula I hope Black Pete leaves the beer bottle for you ;-))

  4. Thanks Karin! I've been having fun discovering my home traditions again! My shoe is ready!

  5. My aunt (Polish) used to bring us sweets and say "a strange man with a white beard stopped me in the street and asked me to give these to you" She carried on doing this until I was 20! Happy St Nicholas or Sinterklaas.

  6. I loved reading about this Christmas tradition, and your little cookies look absolutely gorgeous. I'd rather eat them than throw around to ward off evil spirits though! :-)

  7. Sally, a very happy St Nicholas to you. Thanks for sharing your story, I love to hear about it!

    thelittleloaf, I haven't thrown them away, I actually gave them to my co-workers! They were happy :)

  8. what a lovely story. The kruidnoten are new for me but I'll be making them this year to ward off those evil spirits! Thanks for sharing x

  9. Uvrashi, thank you! Don't forget to bake these cookies if you want to ward of evil spirits :) Let me know how it goes when you do!

  10. Last weekend I tried your recipe, and they are delicious, so crunchy!!
    And it was fun to shape the little balls :)

    I had seen different recipes for kruidnoten, but I am very happy to use yours cos it's perfect! Thanks!!!

    And no evil spirits tonight :P

    1. Hi Paula, thanks so much for letting me know. It's always nice to hear from lovely people who've tried out things from this blog! Happy Sinterklaas! :)

  11. Ah Regula, what a lovely story, I can't actually remember when I knew that Father Christmas didn't really exist. I remember when I was 8 thinking I'd heard him delivering my bike as he was so noisy, must have been a struggle for him as my parent's didn't have a chimney! Your little cookies look very yummmy and I don't think I've ever had pepper in a cookie!

    1. Once you try these cookies you are hooked! Really, the taste is addictive, pepper, salt, spices... addictive! :)


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