When I think winter holiday foods, my mind turns immediately to the sweets – I can’t help it – who wouldn’t love spice cookies or a bûche de noël? However, I know that everyone doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and that savory dishes are just as important on the holiday table. For St. Nicholas Day we encountered mainly sweet treats – but Bulgaria, where the holiday is called Nikulden, has their own savory spin on the day. In Bulgaria, St. Nicholas is associated with fishing and fishermen, so it makes sense that his signature dish, Ribnik, is carp stuffed with walnuts, and wrapped in a pastry dough. This striking dish is then the centerpiece for St. Nicholas Day feasts. Here are recipes for two versions of Ribnik from the St. Nicholas Center, and another from Eclectic Cuisine (seen below).
It’s a rule – there is nothing we like more than baking treats for any associated holiday, American and international alike. St. Nicholas Day is coming up soon – December 6th, and in some European countries, it is a HUGE holiday complete with feasts, cookies, and having St. Nicholas fill your shoes with candy. One of the St. Nicholas Day treats that has traversed many borders and become something of a holiday staple is the German Pfeffernüsse cookie (which literally translates to “pepper nut”) which show up all around Central and Northern Europe this time of year. Similar cookies are called Pepernoden in the Netherlands and Pebernodder in Sweden. We even found a Swiss version of Pfeffernüsse in New Glarus, Wisconsin (see below). Pfeffernüsse are super easy to make and have a spiced, gingerbread-like flavor, sometimes coated in powdered sugar or glazed. The Austin Statesman has an interesting story about unearthing a heritage family Pfeffernüsse recipe and Saveur has a recipe that includes a rum glaze. We even saw a version at Trader Joe’s in the holiday special section, if you’re looking for an extra-quick treat.
Pfeffernusse in New Glarus, Wisconsin
St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) is right around the corner, and that means it is time for speculoos! These crispy brown sugar and spice cookies, popularized in the US by the brand Biscoff, are extremely popular in Belgium and the Netherlands at this time of year. Though you can get speculoos stateside, if you are Brussels, you can try a taste of the original old-style speculoos at Maison Dandoy, who has been baking them up since 1829. Speculoos are traditionally eaten with tea and are associated with advent time and especially St. Nicholas Day.
There are Maison Dandoy locations sprinkled throughout Brussels, and we went to the Tea Shop location (Rue Charles Buls 14) in the center of the old town. The tea shop has a restaurant upstairs (another post on this to follow) and a lovely store on the first floor filled with beautifully displayed and packaged Belgian cookies. The speculoos at Maison Dandoy are stamped with a windmill, shaped by traditional molds or even by special springerle rolling pins with designs imprinted on them. You can also get a vanilla or chocolate version of speculoos at Dandoy if you are so inclined, though we are purists and prefer the original. Though of course the original recipe is secret, you can try an imitation Dandoy recipe from Un déjeuner de soleil (in French – auto-translated here. Eat the Love has another speculoos recipe and even more history. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Nicholas Day than with cookies and tea!
The holiday season is upon us – and that means food – and especially sweets – are out in full force! One of the biggest sweet-filled holidays in Central Europe is right around the corner: St. Nicholas Day. On the Eve of St. Nicholas Day (called Deň Sv. Mikuláša in Slovak), children leave out their boots in the hopes that they will get a special treat from St. Nicholas, perhaps some fruit, or if they are lucky, candy! This tradition is similar to other countries, such as the celebration of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. If you’re looking to learn about Czech candies, Prague Artel blog has a comprehensive guide about some of the most famous varieties (we think Kofila looks especially delicious). You can get your fix of Czech / Slovak candies at Slovczechvar.com and Equ.inox has reviews of both Czech and Slovak chocolates. For something a little more substantial, check out these St. Nicholas moon cookies.
Candy-filled shoes for St. Nicholas Day – by Major Bonnet