From: Peter G. Rose: Delicious December: How the Dutch Brought Us Santa, Presents, and Treats, SUNY PRESS, 2014. (Available on

 Letters formed from bread dough were an educational aid in medieval cloister schools. After the students had mastered writing the letter, it could be eaten. Letters became associated with the feast of St. Nicholas and gradually were made from a richer cookie dough, molded in wooden alphabet molds, baked and then painted with a sugar glaze and sometimes decorated with gold leaf or small comfits. No matter how they were made, they were an edible way of teaching kids their letters. Nowadays, letters are made from rich puff pastry dough and filled with almond paste. Since the end of the 19th century, chocolate letters are made from white, milk, or dark chocolate. Millions are sold every year in the Netherlands in the December month, continuing this early tradition.

The following cookie recipe is a good project to do with older children (8 and up). Before you make the recipe, you might want to practice together beforehand, using a piece of string to make the initial of the child’s name and discuss the best and easiest way to do this using dough.

 Letter cookies (Koekletters)

2 sticks unsalted butter

½ teaspoon finely textured salt

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 egg yolks

3 cups all purpose flour

Butter a baking sheet and set aside Preheat over to 325 F. In an electric mixer cream butter, salt and sugar, add yolks, then flour in 4 batches. Beat to make a smooth, non-sticky dough that clings to the beater.

METHOD 1: Divide the dough into 3 parts and work with 1 part at a time; refrigerate remaining dough. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick and cut out with letter cookie cutters.

METHOD 2 is more fun to do with children: Divide the dough into 3 parts and work with one part at a time; refrigerate remaining dough. Roll each part into an even rope, about 1/2 inch in diameter, and 24inches long, cut into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece again and use to shape a letter. The dough is very easy to work with and very forgiving, just pat it in shape. To imitate the grooves in the old wooden cookie molds, use a small knife to cut small grooves in the dough, horizontally and vertically in a pleasing pattern and give the ends a small cut in the middle and then curl each side outwards.

Place the finished cookies on the buttered baking sheet and bake for about 20 - 30 minutes until lightly browned. Yield: 9 letters, depending on size.

Peter G. Rose, Copyright, 2018.

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

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