The little sister of speculaas, kruidnoten are tiny rounded cookies eaten at Sinterklaas. They're fragrantly spiced with ginger, cinnamon, white pepper, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, while brown sugar adds a a hint of molasses.
The origin of these traditional treats is intricately linked with the history of the Netherlands. The Dutch controlled the spice trade with the East in the 17th century, making the use of spices more accessible to ordinary Dutch people. Spices were still expensive, however, which is why their use was reserved for the holidays.
The Sinterklaas tradition sees the strewing of kruidnoten, pepernoten, chocolate coins and candy around the room for the children to pick up off the floor (!) on Sinterklaas Eve. The act of sewing suggests fertility, like a farmer sowing his seeds, and the practice is supposedly linked to more ancient Germanic fertility rites practised here, with children being the living symbol of fertility.
These days, the traditional recipe is still popular, but new variations, such as truffle kruidnoten, chocolate-covered kruidnoten and yoghurt-covered kruidnoten are also enjoyed.
My kruidnoten recipes:
Kruidnoten are often mistakenly called pepernoten (even by Dutch people themselves). Pepernoten are actually slightly chewy, rusk-like aniseed and honey cookies.