Below are two cookie recipes: one in honor of St. Nick and the other Santa Claus. For those of you who have a healthy dose of curiosity as well as a sweet tooth, let’s explore how these two holiday figures came to be.
St. Nicholas was a bishop in southwestern Turkey in the 4th century. Born to a wealthy family, he gave much of his money away in support of the poor. As the bishop of Myra, he had a number of miracles attributed to him and was eventually declared a saint. His feast day was celebrated on December 6th. During St. Nicholas’ lifetime, Pope Julius I decided that Jesus should be given a day that could be celebrated in honor of his birth. Because the winter solstice was already being celebrated, the birthday for Jesus was designated to coincide, which eventually proved successful in “Christianizing” the previously pagan holiday. Over time St. Nicholas’ day and Jesus’ birthday became associated, and the Christmas tradition began. Because St. Nicholas was beneficent in his offerings to the poor, stuffed stockings and gifts became synonymous with this day.Unfortunately for St. Nicholas, the Protestant Reformation dismissed Catholic ideas about saints, so St. Nicholas celebrations were abandoned over time throughout Europe except for Holland, where he was referred to as “Sinter Klaus,” which later morphed into “Sancte Claus.” Contrary to popular thinking, the Dutch did not bring Santa Claus to the New World. Rather, scholarship shows that an interest in Dutch customs grew following the Revolutionary War in the United States. Washington Irving included Santa Claus in a history of New York, while the poem by Clement Clarke Moore entitled “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” often referred to as “The Night Before Christmas,” became an instant success. Moore was a professor of biblical languages in New York and added Norse and German legends to the telling. And with a deft nod to the Saami people of Northern Scandinavia and Finland, he incorporated reindeer in his poem not only as a practical method of transportation (they are snow creatures after all) but as figures that grab the imagination in each retelling of the holiday story.
So enjoy the cookie recipes below as well as the tale of two “Sintas” or “Santas” or whichever moniker you choose. Happy Holidays!
Saint Nicholas Cookie
*This recipe is from Aaron Shepard’s The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale. You can find the pattern for the cookie here. Just print it, cut out the shape, then use that to make a sturdier pattern from cardboard. Lay the cardboard pattern on your flattened dough and trim around it.
- 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- About 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- Melt the butter and set aside.
- Beat the egg in a large bowl until yolk and white are fully mixed.
- Stir the honey, milk, and almond extract. Add to the egg and beat until well mixed.
- Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Add to the egg mixture and beat until well mixed. (Brown sugar should be firmly packed when measuring, but sift to remove lumps before adding to cookie dough.)
- Add the melted butter slowly and beat until well mixed.
- Add flour slowly until the mixture is solid enough to knead.
- Transfer to your work surface and knead in more flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.
- Shape the cookie with a pattern, a cookie cutter, or a cookie mold. (If using a cookie mold, see instructions in Baking with Cookie Molds.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F, or lower for especially thick cookies.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are slightly browned at the edges.
*(Optional) After the cookies have cooled, paint them as Saint Nicholas with red and white icing.
Santa Claus Cookie
*Recipe courtesy of pillsbury.com.
Prep time 2 hr 0 min
Total time 2 hr 30 min
- 1 roll Pillsbury® refrigerated sugar cookies
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons red decorator sugar crystals
- 1 1/4 cups vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting (from 1-lb container)
- 1/2 teaspoon red paste icing color (not liquid food color)
- 16 miniature marshmallows, cut in half crosswise
- Assorted candies
- In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in flour until well blended. Reshape into log. If too soft to cut into slices, refrigerate up to 30 minutes.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Cut dough into 28 (1/4-inch) slices, reshaping each into a round. For each cookie, cut narrow strips from opposite sides of slice. On ungreased cookie sheet, place larger piece. Shape dough strips into balls; roll in sugar crystals. Place ball of dough on each cut side, 2/3 of the way down, on inside edge of cookie to form cheeks; press gently so balls almost touch. Repeat with remaining slices, placing 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake 7 to 11 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.
- In small bowl, place 1/2 cup of the frosting. Stir in icing color until well blended. Frost top of each cookie with red frosting for hat. Add marshmallow half, cut side down, for tassel on hat.
- Place remaining frosting in decorating bag fitted with writing tip, or in small resealable food-storage plastic bag with small hole cut in 1 corner of bag. Pipe white frosting around remaining cookie edge for beard and across bottom of hat. Attach candies with frosting for eyes, nose and mouth. Pipe white frosting for mustache.