French Traditions - Gingerbread Saint Nicolas Biscuit recipe
Walking into the boulangerie this weekend there was a new yummy smell besides the normal bread and pain au chocolate. Upon seeing me sniff the air the Boulangeress ( could be a made up word!) told me they were making the Biscuits de Noel…..huh n’est ce pas trop tôt? Is it not too early?
In many European countries December 6 , Saint Nicolas Day is celebrated. It is not a national holiday, more of a religious observance. However like many holidays along with the religious aspect there are non religious traditions that accompany them.
A very brief history - Saint Nicolas, a bishop, lived in an ancient city of Turkey between 250AD and 270 AD. He was thought to have been a protector of children and widows often leaving them gifts and money in their shoes to help them throughout the year. Upon his death on December 6 his tomb apparently became the site of many miracles. As the story goes a Knight from France stole one of Saint Nicolas’ finger bones and brought it back to his home town, and a number of miracles started to happen there as well.
So how do Biscuits de Noel fit in? On the night of December 5th, children place their shoes beside the door. In the morning when they awake they find their shoes filled with candies, nuts, fruits and coins. During the day of the 6th a donkey carrying a basket full of spiced biscuits walks through the villages offering a blessing to everyone. These biscuits shaped like a bishop are called the biscuit de noel.
Below I share a recipe for the Gingerbread St Nicolas biscuits from Aurelie at Mademoiselle Cuisine , and a picture of the ones we made . I did not have a bishop shaped cookie cutter however if you visit the link here from Aurelie, she has kindly provided a template for use. I found this after I made my star cookies! I chose not to ice them and instead just used icing sugar. Your choice! These biscuits should be chewy not crunchy.
Gingerbread Saint Nicholas Cookies
For the gingerbread cookies
- 500 grams flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 200 grams sugar
- 250 grams honey ( Acacia or all flowers works nicely
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground anise
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ½ cup water
- In a small bowl, mix all the spices (cinnamon, anise, cloves, nutmeg)
- Pour the spices in a bowl. Add flour, baking powder and sugar. Mix.
- Add honey. Knead the dough by hand or with the food processor.
- Add half of the water.
- Continue to knead the dough without adding the remaining water even if it may seem a bit dry at first.
- After a few minutes, add the remaining water, if necessary. The dough should not be sticky. If this is the case, add a little flour.
- Form a ball with the dough, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 1 hour at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
- Roll the dough to about 1 cm thick on a floured work surface.
- Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a knife with the help of the template.
- Arrange the gingerbread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving enough space between them.
- Bake for about 15 minutes.
- Cool cakes on a wire rack.