For many folks, Christmas is all about the cookies.
As a Catholic, I like to be a bit counter cultural on many things, like prioritizing church, using NFP, and celebrating Advent instead of running headlong into Christmas and then taking down the tree on December 26th, when the Christmas season has actually just begun.
My rebellious nature translates great into the real food world, where we don’t drink soda pop, use chicken bones for bone broth instead of buying boneless skinless breasts all the time, and eat real butter instead of margarine (and lots of it!).
I don’t know that making a slightly healthier cookie for St. Nick’s Day is really rebellious, but it’s not something every kitchen will be doing next week.
This upgraded version of a sugar cookie with a whole lot of spice and more than a little tradition is formed in the shape of St. Nicholas and made to celebrate his feast day on December 6th. The traditional German cookie is called “Speculatius” or “Spekulatius,” meaning “image.”
The kids and I managed them with either white whole wheat flour or sprouted wheat flour, as well as “less sugar” and “unrefined sweeteners”, so you’ve got lots of options for levels of nutrition today! (See the end of the post for more Christmas cookie “healthier” ideas.)
Don’t forget to refer to your copy of Smart Sweets, my desserts eBook, with 30 healthy, healthi-ER, and healthy-ISH recipes for the holidays or anytime!
Recipe: St. Nick’s Speculatius Cookies
These cookies have an incredible amount of spice, but do not be shy! You’ll love every teaspoonful. We’ve had such fun mixing dough and rolling out the cookies, and for extended family members, the St. Nick cutouts make a great gift, from kiddos especially. My son couldn’t have been more proud to present the great aunts and uncles with his special treats last year. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, so set out your shoes and bake some treats in honor of a great and holy man.
- Cream butter and sucanat plus molasses together for about 5 minutes or until light and fully combined.
- Add eggs and continue to mix hard until mixture is creamy again.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients, then mix until combined. You will likely need to add another 1/2-1 cup flour at this point, mixing by hand or even kneading until the dough is mostly not sticky and has a firm texture and holds together in a ball.
- Refrigerate the dough until chilled through and easy to roll out. I simply put the whole mixing bowl in the fridge uncovered (who has bugs in their fridge?) or covered with a plate when I use the garage because my fridge is full.
- Once dough is stiff, pull out a piece to roll out and leave the rest chilled. Coat a clean, flat surface with flour and roll to about 1/8-1/4” for large St. Nick shapes and thinner for little cookies.
- Cut shapes and move to an ungreased cookie sheet or baking stone. You can reroll the leftover pieces, but try not to manhandle them too much so your cookies remain light and not tough.
- Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 9-12 minutes (up to 15-20 if your cookies are 1/4” thick).
- Because the cookies are so brown with spice, you don’t want to wait until you can see the edges brown to deem them done. If they pick up without drooping in the middle, they’re probably done. Give them a minute to cool on a rack to see if they firm up if you’re unsure. They can make a nice, light soft cookie or a bit crunchy with a few extra minutes.
- Stores in the freezer forever, according to the original, but ours usually languish on the shelf for 2-4 weeks…and they’re great!
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- Seriously, do not skimp on the spices. I realize that’s a lot of teaspoons, but it comes together to be totally delicious.
- If your butter is hard and chilled, you can roll it with a rolling pin to soften or mash it in your warm hands (in the wrapper) a bit. A heavy duty stand mixer can handle partially softened butter just fine if you’re not a planner!
- The recipe cuts in half well, as the full batch generates quite a few cookies!
- I don’t have a cute St. Nicholas cookie cutter or mold. I simply used a piece of clean, thin cardboard and copied the shape from the parent recipe. Use a butter knife to cut around the edges, especially if you’re working with children. This decorative touch is even more beautiful than I could ever hope for!
- A garlic press with a bit of dough makes lovely beard hair for St. Nick.
- Pipe any thick white frosting on for the details (here’s my sugary recipe, and you can always make powdered sucanat by blending it for a few minutes). You can use yogurt cheese, honey and vanilla or almond extract for a simple real food version. Just make sure it’s thick enough to hold a shape. You may have to add some arrowroot starch (or powdered sugar) to help give it body.
- How to Make Your Own Sprouted Flour – and if you don’t want to use sprouted, white whole wheat works great.
- I changed the original recipe quite a bit: the shortening quickly became butter (palm shortening works too, and I want to try coconut oil next), I decreased the white sugar by 1/2 cup and used Wholesome Sweeteners organic cane sugar, and I used 100% white whole wheat for the white flour (in my first version, which you can see here. To make it even healthier, I switched to sprouted flour and used sucanat and molasses instead of white sugar. This version is decidedly less sweet, but if you’re going to add frosting, it all works out.
- Recipe adapted from this site, originally from To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.
Want Advent Activities?
My mother-in-law asked me if I’d ever heard of Elf on the Shelf, a tradition for one of her cousins. I said I thought we had it in the basement, but we are doing Truth in the Tinsel this year to prepare for Jesus coming instead of Santa Claus.
That sounds harsh; I promise I was much more tactful in person!
Amanda White’s Truth in the Tinsel is a marvelous eBook filled with crafts and Scripture verses for every day of Advent. It’s not Catholic, but it’s still perfect for your little ones.
I’ve also signed up for daily emails for kids from Holy Heroes, called the Advent Adventure (it’s free). We’ll see how we can keep up!
Find more book recommendations for both children and adults in my holiday gift guide this year (plus other practical, clutter-free ideas).
Other Cookie Recipes for Christmas
Got a cookie exchange? I don’t have a ton of cookie recipes here, but these three are winners:
Cinnamon Raisin Spelt Drops (100% whole grain)
Traditional Kifli Cookies (my fav Christmas cookie ever!)
I lamented that I shouldn’t do a cookie exchange because bringing all that gluten into the house is a mean temptation to my hubby, who really should stay gluten-free. My neighbor and I decided to co-host a “recipe tasting party” with “small plate” appetizers. Everyone will bring a dish to pass and the recipe to share – I’m pumped!
What do you do with food at Christmastime? How has that changed as you get more into “real food?”
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