By Angela Denstad Stigeler
While there’s still time to get your letter in to Santa, you may also wish to give a few letters—of the cookie variety—to loved ones this week in time for the feast day of Saint Nicholas. The sixth day of December commemorates this famously generous third-century bishop, and he continues to deliver gifts to good children on this day throughout much of Europe. He’s even been known to visit families on this continent if they’re kind enough to remember him and set out a small snack for him or his donkey.
Though customs for celebrating Saint Nicholas Day vary, they almost always involve some special treats that, in the true spirit of the saint, are meant to be shared. This recipe is a traditional Dutch cookie that is a frequenter of holiday treat platters, though usually in the guise of pretty cookie-press stars, trees and snowflakes. Here, the tradition is to pipe the dough into letters, so each person receives his or her initials. This cookie letter tradition for “Sinterklaas” dates back to the 16th century and continues to delight young and old. So use this recipe as a real conversation starter for your cookie correspondence with Saint Nick.
Sprits (Dutch Letter Cookies)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, lemon peel, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and slowly add it to the butter mixture.
Place the dough in a pastry bag* with a large decorating tip, preferably with one flat and one fluted side. Squeeze dough onto prepared sheets, shaping it into the initials of the names of family and guests. Bake for about 10 minutes, depending upon the size and thickness, until the edges are just slightly browned. Let them cool completely and handle them gently as they can be fragile.
*Alternatively, use a cookie press to form the dough into shapes.