{2} Janhagel

Today’s festive offering comes courtesy of the Netherlands, which is usually a pretty good bet when it comes to Christmas goodies, such as speculaas (spiced biscuits) and kerstkransjes (almond Christmas wreaths). These are the mysteriously-named Janhagel which are a buttery, cinnamon-flavoured base topped with toasted almonds and pearl sugar.


I’ve picked this one as tomorrow is Sinterklaas in the Netherlands (although, while the Dutch do it on 5 December, their Belgian neighbours confusingly celebrate it on 6 December. As these cookies are Dutch, we’ll go with the earlier date). This is the day on which St Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, the origin of the name Santa Claus) is said to come from Turkey to distribute gifts and sweets to children by leaving them in clogs, or these days, more modern types of shoe. Alongside presents, it is traditional to get a chocoladeletter (your initial in chocolate!) as well as pepernoten and kruidnoten (spicy little biscuits).

So…these biscuits. They are super-easy to make. Just mix a whole lot of stuff together, sprinkle on the almonds and sugar, and you’re pretty much there. Unlike so many Christmas goodies, you can make these from things in the cupboard and fridge, which is good if you need to whip them up in a hurry. The flavour is fairly simple, just the goodness of butter, sugar, cinnamon and toasted almonds, which does make a nice difference from some of the spice-heavy biscuits and cakes you encounter at this time of the year. However, the name is a bit more of a mystery. They are sometimes spelled as Janhagel, other times as Jan Hagel, which suggests it might have been named after some guy named Jan, with the hagel referring the sugar on top (called hagelsuiker in Dutch). However, this sugary link  is more likely than not a bit of retrofitting a theory to the name. If you’re an expert in Dutch biscuits and you know where the name comes from, do tell!


Now, a few tips for making this. You make these biscuits as one large sheet, then cut into fingers when it is baked. It is worth letting the sheet cool a little, as cutting too soon will mean they fall apart. You should also use a sharp, serrated knife and gentle pressure so that you can get a sharp cut. I tried a straight knife, and it just pressed down on the almonds, leaving messy edges. And…you can get a bit too fussy by using a metal ruler to line everything up, but it would take a special kind of neurotic to get that obsessed…right?

To make Janhagel (makes 18):

• 225g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 150g unsalted butter
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 50g pearl sugar
• 75g flaked almonds

1. In a large bowl, mix and sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Put the butter and sugar in another bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and half of the egg, then mix until you have a smooth dough. Try to do this with a wooden spoon rather than your hands (they will melt the butter and make the mixture greasy). Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to chill for an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Place the dough onto the tray. Shape into a rough square, then cover with another sheet of greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin to roll out to around 1/2 cm thickness. The size of the square should be just over 25 x 25 cm (10 x 10 inches). Remove the top layer of paper.

5. Brush the dough with the remaining egg. Sprinkle over half of the pearl sugar, then the flaked almonds, and finish with the rest of the pearl sugar. Run the rolling pin lightly over the top to ensure everything sticks.

6. Bake for 20 minutes until puffed and the nuts are golden. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a moment. Gently trim the edges, then cut into bars using a sharp serrated knife. Aim for around 4 x 8 cm.

Worth making? This is a very quick and easy recipe, and doesn’t need anything too fancy to produce great cookies. You could also make them with different spices according to taste.


Filed under Christmas, Sweet Things

12 responses to “{2} Janhagel

  1. sydneynotfromaustralia

    Wow, I’ll definitely have to add these to the Christmas baking list. I love simple cookie recipes, especially during the holiday season when I’m busy trying to balance end-of-the-year schoolwork with baking and Christmas traditions!

    • Oh, that brings back memories. The end of the year filled with what seemed like endless exams…well, best of luck to you! Hope you get a little light relief through baking biscuits.

  2. These look great. The Dutch really know what they’re doing when it comes to Christmas baked goods. Thanks for sharing.

  3. ‘Hagel’ is the Dutch word for ‘hail’, which must clarify things a bit 😉

    I don’t really know for sure why they added ‘Jan’, which is a Dutch name. From what I can read about the word Janhagel’s etymology and its other meanings, Janhagel also meant (means?) ‘the lower class of people’ and ‘sailors’. I guess Jan has the same meaning as Jack does in “every man jack of you”: a name to address just about anybody.
    But it still remains a mystery to me why they named the cookie after it…

    Sorry, I studied Linguistics and have developed a slight obsession with trying to figure out where words originated from. Oh, and even though St Nicholas of Myra, the saint, came from Turkey, Sinterklaas now arrives from Madrid, Spain. And I have no idea why that changed. 🙂

    • Thanks – really interesting! I made the link between the hagelsuiker and hagelslag (bit of a nerd like that…used to live in Sweden, and always got a bit of a thrill when I noticed something in Swedish was similar to a Scottish word or phrase). It’s also been pointed out be a couple of Dutch people I know that Sinterklaas comes from Spain in a boat, and not from Istanbul by a white horse. Whereas we all know Santa Clause actually lives at the North Pole and travels the world in a sledge pulled by flying reindeer… 🙂

  4. These are wonderful. I think I’ll make some today…I happen to have everything on hand, so you are right…you can whip them up with things in the cupboard! So…you did use a metal ruler to line them up didn’t you!? 🙂

  5. Kate

    I wasn’t familiar with these cookies but I will have to try them, as I love most anything with almond! I’m looking forward to the rest of the days of Christmas. 🙂

    • Hi Kate – I know what you mean, it’s not a very well-known cookie. Even some Dutch people I know didn’t seem to be familiar with them. However, if you love almonds, check out my post for panellets de membrillo (almond cookies with quince jam) – they are delicious and super-easy to make.

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