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Whole Foods for the Holidays: St. Nicholas Spice Cookies

st. nicholas day cookies

Desserts are the feature at the Whole Foods for the Holidays: Real Food Progressive Dinner this week, thanks to our host, Kate of Modern Alternative Mama.

For our family at Christmastime, it’s all about the cookies. My mother always made a bazillion varieties, and my husband’s family absolutely focuses on the cookies as well (pies are for Thanksgiving). I doubt I can get away with adding whole grains of any kind to my mother-in-law’s sugar cookie recipe (read: my husband’s favorite cookie in the world). I already got a shifty-eyed look when I used butter instead of margarine years ago.

That recipe is a post in itself – the first year I got the recipe from her, she left out half the flour. I wondered how I roll out the batter I ended up with! The second year, she also forgot the baking powder and maybe another ingredient. I started to wonder if she had some issues with me trying to make her recipe for her son! Now I’ve got it down, but it’s definitely a white flour/white sugar recipe.

st nick cookies

Today I’ve got a slightly healthier version of a sugar cookie with a whole lot of spice and more than a little tradition. Formed in the shape of St. Nicholas for December 6th, this traditional German cookie is called “Speculatius” “Spekulatius” or “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!

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St. Nicholas Spice Cookies (healthier) :: via Kitchen Stewardship

St. Nicholas Spice Cookies

  • Author: Katie Kimball

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. unrefined cane sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 tsp. salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 c. white whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. allspice
  • 2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 2 tsp. cloves


ship kroger


Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar together for about 5 minutes or until light and fully combined.
  2. Add eggs and continue to mix hard until mixture is creamy again.
  3. Add all the rest of the ingredients, then mix until combined.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Once dough is stiff, pull out a piece to roll out and leave the rest chilled.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Notes

Makes lots! You’ll be able to roll out 5-6 times, depending on how thick your cookies are.
Stores in the freezer forever, according to the original, but ours usually languish on the shelf for 2-4 weeks…and they’re great!

Seriously, do not skimp on the spices. I realize that’s a lot of teaspoons, but it comes together to be totally delicious.

The recipe cuts in half well, as the full batch generates quite a few cookies!

Option:  Replace sugar with 1 c. sucanat and 1/2 c. molasses

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st nicholas spice cookies

Cook’s Notes

  • 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). 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
  • I changed the original recipe quite a bit: the shortening quickly became butter (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. See below for an even healthier option!
  • Recipe adapted from this site, originally from To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.
st nicholas spice cookies 2

Take Two: The HealthiER Version of St. Nick’s Spice Cookies

I made a few more adjustments to the recipe and came up with a very respectable, more nourishing, version…if anything with 1 1/2 cups of sweetener can be nourishing! This version is slightly less sweet, but particularly if you’re going to frost them, it makes a good munchy sweet treat.

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. sucanat
1/2 c. molasses
4 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 c. sprouted white whole wheat flour
4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cloves

Method: Same as above, just add the molasses in with the sugar.

This recipe will not make it into the upcoming beans recipe eBook, but if you’ve followed KS for a while, you might guess that it’s a perfect candidate for both the Healthy Desserts book and the Recipe Transformations book. It was exciting to find that both remakes of the original turned out tasty!

Be sure to check out the desserts course over at Kate’s, and visit the list of all the topics and participants of the Whole Foods for the Holidays dinner at Donielle’s. Next week is our last week, beverages, at Frugal Granola!

If you’re a Catholic, other Christian, or just curious: I’ll be posting Advent Daily Dose reflections this year to keep you focused during the season of joyful anticipation! (Did you know the Christmas season does not start until Christmas? Most of December is actually Advent!) Here’s today’s dose.

Disclosure: The links to Amazon and to others’ eBooks will help me earn commission. I appreciate you starting here when you shop! See my full disclosure statement here.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

14 thoughts on “Whole Foods for the Holidays: St. Nicholas Spice Cookies”

  1. Sarah via Facebook

    The Feast of St. Nicholas is December 6th…so you put them out the night before so when the kids get up, they’re filled with goodies (whatever that is for your family). The story of St. Nicholas is actually really neat!

  2. Kristen via Facebook

    Wait, tomorrow is the 5th… Are you supposed to put your shoes out the night before? I don’t know all the traditions. :O)

  3. Marcia via Facebook

    We’re just starting Saint Nick (Sinterklaas) traditions here and were wondering what night to put out the shoes — question answered!

  4. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my best friend’s extended Dutch family. There was a lot of speculaas around Christmas as well as appearance from Sinterklaas (St. Nick). I have so many childhood memories of this, so I’m really excited to try this recipe!

    Yum!

  5. These look great! I have an “alternate to sugar cookies” recipe I just posted myself, but yours have more spices…I like that! 🙂

  6. Wow I’m so happy you know about these!
    They are the greatest 🙂 We are quite crazy about them in Belgium and the Netherlands too!
    Here is my mum’s metric recipe:

    Speculaas / Speculoos recipe!!!

    Ingredients:
    1 kg flour
    500 g “fatty substance” (suppose that’s butter or something)
    350 g white sugar
    350 g brown sugar
    cinnamon according to your taste
    2 eggs
    1 liqueurglass of water or cognac
    2 teaspoons of baking powder

    Instructions:
    – Knead the flour, the fatty substance, the sugar, the cinnamon, the eggs en de water or cognac so that they are mixed up well.
    – Let it rest a day or a night on a cool place (my mum says she puts the dough (it has the form of a roll) in aluminium foil in the freezer because then you can keep it as long as you want and it is easier to cut pieces of it when it’s a bit freezed)
    – Then cut disks of your roll put them on the baking tray or in the baking mould. The baking tray or mould should be covered with flour first.
    – Bake them in a preheated oven at 175 to 200 °C. Control regularly cause speculaas burns easily. After baking take them out of the moulds / off the baking tray and let them cool down on a grill.
    – Eat them, eat loads of them!!!!

    – You can substitute the flour and the baking powder by selfleavening (or how is it called) flour.
    – You can put almonds in them!

  7. Your comments about your mother-in-law reminded me of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. His mother gave Deborah one of her recipes to make but cleverly changed an ingredient so Deborah’s wouldn’t be as good.
    Tour recipe looks good and I love using sprouted flour.

  8. Great post, Katie. My children have always looked forward to St. Nicholas’ feast day. We make the cookies (using the molds/cutters that you must have seen) in advance of the feast. On the eve of the feast, the children lay their shoes by the fireplace. On the feast, they awaken to find their shoes filled with chocolate coins. Even our Playmobil Advent calendar has St. Nick as the character for 12/6. What fun!

  9. My Holland-born parents brought us up on St. Nick and every year we ate speculaas, wrote poems to each other, and had St. Nick appear at our family parties every December 6th with gifts. Saint Nicholas is a wonderful replacement for our American Santa Claus because of the real saint’s dedication to the poor as well as to children.

    St. Nick would toss ginger “peppernoten” cookies to the children when he arrived (which were often Cookie Crisp Cereal if my mom didn’t have a chance to get the real stuff.)

  10. I have a question about the flour-“white” whole wheat? Is this a bleached flour? I have not heard of white whole wheat.

    1. Carol,
      White whole wheat is actually a different plant from the regular “whole wheat” in the store, which is technically “hard red spring wheat.” This one is “hard white spring wheat.” King Arthur brand sells it, so if they’re in your store, I think it’s the blue bag. Not bleached, not refined or less healthy than what you’re used to at all. It just acts and tastes a bit more like white flour. It was a good day when I discovered this stuff!

      🙂 Katie

  11. I got my recipe years ago from the GR Press. We love these and I was wondering what healthy upgrades I could make. The taste of real butter is wonderful in these cookies as well as all those spices. We are going to be making St Nicholas Day our little family Christmas celebration as well (as we are always traveling to MI over Christmas). I even made chocolate letters from melted chocolate chips. Grandma actually sent us home with “real” Sinterklaas cookies from one of the Dutch Stores in GR when we were there for Thanksgiving.

  12. Yum! Thanks for making these more healthy! I have St. Nicholas cookie cutters that I think I found via the St. Nicholas Center online.

    Yes, I tried making sugar cookies more healthy, but the standard white flour/white sugar combination works the best. My dh loves to make these so I make the dough and leave the rest of the work to him. My preference is for spice type cookies so I focus on those for the holidays.

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