Make your gingerbread Saint Nicolas
My mother is originally from the North East of France and my grandmother still lives in Commercy, a wonderfully beautiful small town in Lorraine (that I will speak about after Christmas).
So I spent every summer and Easter holiday during my childhood in Commercy. The Lorraine region is a beautifully lush, rustic and still very traditional area of France and I have inherited many traditions from there.
One of them is celebrating Saint Nicolas. This used to be bigger than Christmas in the North of France!
That little bit of history:
Saint Nicolas, who became Santa Claus in many countries and cultures, is celebrated in France on December 6th. According to French myth, three children got lost in a forest and were found by a wicked butcher, who took them to his shop, salted them away in a barrel for 6 years after which they were rescued by St Nicolas. As a result, he has become the protector of children. We celebrate Saint Nicolas with the giving of gingerbread men and small gifts on December 6th.
Several towns in mainly northern France celebrate with a special festival where the saint, complete with long flowing white beard, appears. You’ll find him in Arras, St. Nicolas de Port and particularly in Nancy in Lorraine which is where I went to University!
So I made these rather pretty Saint Nicolas and Gingerbread men. I put them in little paper boxes and give them to my family. Here is the recipe passed down to me by my family. You can store them for about a month in a biscuit tin and for an extra indulgent treat, dip them in warm honeyed milk!|
What you need:
- 350g/12oz plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 125g/4½oz butter
- 175g/6oz light soft brown sugar
- 1 free-range egg
- 4 tbsp golden syrup/honey
How to make them:
- Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon and pour into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
- Lightly beat the egg and golden syrup together, add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out, knead briefly until smooth, wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
- Roll the dough out to a 0.5cm/¼in thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using cutters, cut out the gingerbread men shapes or just cut out the shapes of Saint Nicolas based on my photos above and place on the baking tray, leaving a gap between them.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden-brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- When cooled decorate with the writing icing and cake decorations make the icing by whipping with an electric whisk the following
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk or water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla