This easy recipe—from Amsterdam's most famous patissier, Cees Holtkamp—delivers a fragrant batch of homemade pepernoten, the old-fashioned Dutch anise and honey cookies that are traditionally enjoyed as part of Dutch Sinterklaas festivities.
Even though the Dutch themselves struggle to keep it straight, pepernoten should not be confused with kruidnoten. In fact, aside from their confusingly similar names and the fact that both cookies are consumed in the weeks surrounding St. Nicholas Day, they are nothing alike.
Pepernoten is made with honey and ground aniseed and have a chewy texture, a subtle licorice flavor, and a rustic rusk-like shape. Kruidnoten are tiny, round crunchy cookies similar to gingerbread and are flavored with a heady blend of spices, including cinnamon, mace, white pepper, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.
The following recipe is from Koekje cookbook and has been translated from the original Dutch and published here with the permission of the publisher. While we've converted the recipe to US measurements, this is a patissier's recipe and you'll get the best results using a digital kitchen scale and the original European measurements.
- 1/2 cup/150 g honey
- 1/4 cup/60 g water
- 1/2 cup/100 g bruine basterdsuiker (see note below)
- 3 1/3 cup/300 g rye flour
- 1/2 teaspoon/3 g salt
- Sunflower oil (to grease)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons/12 g ground aniseed
- 1 tablespoon/10 g baking powder (sifted)
In a saucepan, heat the honey with 2 3/4 tablespoons/40 g of the water and the sugar until the mixture reaches 194 F (90 C) on a candy thermometer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and mix in the rye flour and salt using a hand mixer with a dough hook attachment (or pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead the dough that way). Knead the dough thoroughly. Grease some plastic wrap with sunflower oil and cover the dough with the plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for one day at room temperature.
The next day, preheat the oven to 340 F/170 C. Add the ground anise, the remaining 1 1/3 tablespoons/20 g of water and the baking powder and knead well. Rub a little of the sunflower oil into your hands and roll little balls, roughly the size of a marble. Place the balls into a round spring form cake tin. The cake tin may be densely packed, it doesn't matter if the pepernoten touch each other.
Bake the pepernoten for 20 minutes in the preheated oven until golden brown. When you lightly press down on the cookies, they should bounce back a little. Take the tin from the oven, invert over a dish and separate the pepernoten. Allow to cool and keep in an airtight container.
Recipe Tips and Variations
- Basterdsuiker is a typical Dutch product and cannot be substituted easily. It is manufactured by adding invert sugar and other ingredients to fine white refined sugar. This mixture helps to achieve certain textural structures and keeps baked goods moist. There are three varieties, white, brown and dark brown, called witte basterdsuiker, (licht)bruine basterdsuiker or gele basterdsuiker and donkerbruine basterdsuiker. It is widely available at Dutch supermarkets and from some Dutch groceries on the internet.
- Pepernoten should be baked in a spring form tin so that the edges don't bake too quickly or they will get too hard.
- Because ground anise loses its flavor quickly, we advise buying this spice whole and crushing them just before you need them. Use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle or place the spices in a bag and bash with a rolling pin. Sieve and use only the fine powder in this recipe.