Taaitaai is usually baked in human shapes: often it's an image of Sinterklaas himself. The smaller versions are eaten as a treat or a cookie with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The larger size taaitaais are called "taaipop", i.e. taai doll. But in older days, as I learned by reading Dutch writer and poet Jan Ter Gouw (1814-1894), "Taaitaai, sweet as syrup, tough as leather and as brown as old sealing wax, was baked in a variety of shapes". Male and female dolls for the young people, shaped as a church for the religous folks, large hogs for grandpas and cat-shaped for grandmas, all richly decorated and sometimes even covered in gold leaf. Young men would gift a decorated taai-taai doll to a girl they were interested in marrying. The doll would be carved in the dough before baking and outfitted with elements and symbols referring to the pursuer's trade. These dolls were called "vrijers" or "lovers". The young man would return the next day: if the "vrijer" had been eaten, the girl accepted the proposal. If not....well, move on to the next one!
Most children that celebrate Sinterklaas are too young to be bothered with vrijers, but as adults it might be a fun tradition to continue.
Prepare the dough preferably a couple of days beforehand: the spices will be able to blend and provide a wonderful flavor. As with so many Dutch recipes, the ingredients are few so top quality is key!
2 cups of self-rising flour
1/3 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground aniseed
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
Warm the honey and the pancake syrup until they are easily pourable. Add all the spices and the salt to the flour, pour in the honey/syrup mix and knead into a flexible, non-sticky dough. (You may have to add some water, one tablespoon at a time, to achieve this.) Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or, preferably, a day or two.
Lightly dust the counter with flour. Roll out the dough about half an inch high and cut out the shapes. I used gingerbread men. Heat the oven to 350F, place a silicone mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet and transfer your cookies. Brush with beaten egg and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.
|Taaitaai dolls, the Dutch "Chewy Louies"|