Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taaitaai

Taaitaai is an age-old typical delicacy that's eaten during the Sinterklaas days. Taai (rhymes with "I" and means "tough") may well refer to the chewiness of the sweet dough. It is similar to speculaas, with the added flavor of aniseed, but misses the typical speculaas crunch: instead its dough is taai: tough and chewy.

Saint Nicholas grew out to be the protector of small children: in one story he brought back to life three young boys that had been killed. In another, he prevented three poor sisters from having to go into prostitution by throwing three bags with money into their home, one bag for each girl for her dowry. This may have sparked his status as protector of marriages, or matchmaker, and might have started the tradition of giving a taaitaai doll, a "vrijer", to an unmarried girl.

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!

Taai-taai
2 cups of self-rising flour
1/3 cup of honey
2 tablespoons of pancake syrup
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
1 egg

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"

12 comments:

  1. They look fantastic, I love chewy biscuits.

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  2. This one I want to make. I love anise! and chewy. Might even survive a trip to Florida.

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  3. May I ask how long TaaiTaai will keep for? Do they soften over time? (that might be preferable for the Dutch grandmother I'm making them for)
    Thanks!

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  4. Dit blog is een fantastische verzameling van nederlands bakkers-erfgoed aan het worden, TOP!
    ben zelf geen taai-taai fan, geef mij maar speculaas ;)

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    1. Dankjewel, Lien! Ben zelf ook meer van de speculaas, maar af en toe een taaitaaitje is ook wel eens lekker :-)

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  5. I'm making them today and I was wondering if I did anything wrong. The recipe states to "mix and knead into a flexible, non-sticky dough." I added 3 Tbsp water and kneaded it for about 5 minutes but it was still sticky. It was a dough (stiff, pliable cookie dough texture) but it was sticky. Thanks I love your site. Wendy

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    1. Hi Wendy, you did nothing wrong. You may want to dust the outside with some flour so that it doesn't stick to the counter when you roll it to cut it into shapes. If it's still too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour and knead it in, it's not going to hurt it. Have fun!!

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  6. Thank You. I'm going to bake them in about an hour. :) W

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  7. They were really good, perfect texture. I seem to remember them being sweeter though. That might be my imagination because its been over 10 years since I had any. :)

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    1. Wendy, glad you liked them! Your memory may be right, it all depends on the manufacturer: some brands are sweeter, some are spicier.

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  8. I might try them a little sweeter next time. I do love them though.

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  9. I found this site after my Opa brought my sister back her Taai Taai cookies after his recent trip back to Holland. We were fortunate to have him take us there this past May to visit with family, see where he and Oma spent so much time and even see where my Dad was born. We had a list of all those must haves to bring home with us but neither of us realized that those cookies were only available during Sinterklaas. It turn out that was when they would go back every year and would bring us back our favorite things. I am so thrilled to see so many of the recipes my Oma would make. She passed away a year ago and those recipes went with her. I look forward to using this site often and letting my children appreciate my heritage more than the Chocoladehagel!!

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