{4} Speculaas

A couple of weeks ago I made a batch of speculaaskruiden. Now here is a way to use them up – Dutch speculaas cookies!

I feel I need to point out that these are not strictly Christmas biscuits per se, as you can get hold of them all year round, but the crisp buttery spiced flavour does suit this time of year particularly well. Imagine yourself sitting on a café terrace on an old market square on a chilly day in December, coffee or mulled wine in one hand, and one of these cookies in the other.

Now, this post has a number of interesting things related to speculaas. To start with, this is a very special recipe. It’s not one that I made up, nor it is one that has come from some random website. Nope, it comes from Het Haagse Kookboek (“The Hague Cookbook”). I am assured that this was, back in the day, basically the cookery bible of Dutch housewives. As you can see below, the version I have had access to is clearly from the 1970s, and I love the retro front cover.

Another interesting aside is that the origin of the word “cookie” also links back to the Dutch. It isn’t a British word – we have biscuits, cakes, tarts, traybakes and so on. But the cookie is an American “thing”. It comes from the Dutch word for a small cake. Cake is koek (say it like “cook” in English), then make it small by adding the diminutive ending -je – and that’s how we get to koekje (say “cook-ye”).

And finally…as another interesting aside, I come back charged with inspiration about all things from the Low Countries following a recent trip to Belgium. While in Brussels, I was persuaded to buy some classic moulds for speculaas – a man and a woman, a bird and, of course, a windmill. If these cookies are going to be Dutch, they are going to be very Dutch. Even if they were made with Belgian moulds…

My unwavering belief that speculaas is a legitimate festive bake is also supported by the fact that it appears in the window displays of lots of bakeries and chocolatiers in Brussels. These range from the size of your palm to the size of a small child (really). My favorite is from Maison Dandoy. If you are there, do go in and enjoy the aromas and flavours. You may also wish to buy something, mainly because you will go nuts thinking about speculaas after you leave there.

That’s the background, the theory and the linguistics lesson. How are they to make?

The recipe is pretty easy – put everything in a bowl, work to a dough, allow to chill and that’s it! OK, that’s not quite it. If you are making these in the proper way, you use a type of sugar the Dutch call basterdsuiker. Yes, very giggle-inducing, but it turns out to be a sort of brown sugar. I’m not sure there is an exact substitute in Britain, but I used soft brown sugar and they worked out a treat.

But…but…we just have to admit that the real fun is using the moulds. No messing around with a rolling-pin. Just press pieces of dough into the moulds, then flip them over and whack them on the table to release them. And there we have it – lots of little gingerbread people, birds and windmills!

I do have to admit that these cookies were the result of some trial and error. The moulds were new, and probably need to be “seasoned” or similar. At first the mixture stuck badly, but I think after a while, the butter made for some sort of natural non-stick, and combined with a light coating of flour, they started to come out very easily indeed. By the end, we were experts!

And…after all that…here are the finished biscuits. Not quite as perfect as they looked before going into the oven, but they taste great – crisp, spicy and buttery – and they do have a certain rustic charm.

If you are tempted to have a go but lack suitable moulds, then have a look at this great version of speculaas from a Dutch girl living in London (here).

To make speculaas:

• 100g soft brown sugar
• 100g butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt, finely ground
• 200g self-raising flour
• 2 teaspoons speculaaskruiden or mixed spices
• cold water
• 25g flaked almonds (optional)

To make the dough:

Sieve the sugar to get rid of any lumps. Put the sugar, butter, flour and spices in a large bowl. Use your hands to rub the ingredients together until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water (1-2 tablespoons) until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Work in the flaked almonds (if using). Wrap in cling film and chill for two hours or overnight.

To bake the cookies:

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

If using speculaas moulds: sprinkle the moulds with flour, tap out any excess, then press pieces of dough into the moulds. Then – in theory – they should come out of the moulds easily when you flip them over. Arrange on the baking sheet at least 2 cm apart.

If you don’t have the moulds: roll the dough out to 1/4 cm thickness and use cookie cutters to shape the speculaas. If you like, brush them with milk and sprinkle with some more flaked almonds. Arrange on the baking sheet at least 2 cm apart.

Bake the cookies for 25-30 minutes until the speculaas are firm, but have not started to darken.

Worth making? This is a very quick, straightforward recipe, and the resulting biscuits are great on their own, or can be used crushed over desserts, in crumble toppings or as part of a biscuit base for cheesecakes. You can also vary the spices depending on what is to hand and your own preferences – not bad for cookies made from simple ingredients you’re likely to have to hand!

11 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

11 responses to “{4} Speculaas

  1. What a lovely post. Great book and as for those moulds – you´ll treasure them for a lifetime!

  2. hopeeternal

    We always bring back pack of Speculoos/Speculaas from France, etc – they are not always easy to get here in London. I keep meaning to make some myself and your recipe looks very straightforward. I have a plastic windmill shaped cutter (just an outline) but would love some of the proper moulds. What type of shop did you find your wooden moulds in – and were they expensive? We are planning a trip to Ypres, Bruges and Antwerp next year so it would be helpful to know. Just one would make a lovely holiday gift to myself!
    Thanks
    hopeeternal
    ‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’

    • I got some of them in a great cookshop in Brussels called [Mmmmh!] (92 chaussée de Charleroi), and some of them in a homewares store called Dille & Kamille (26 Rue Jean Stas). Dille & Kamille have a number of stores in Belgium too, so should be easy to find, so good luck.

      Otherwise, maybe it’s worth visiting some antique stores – you might find a vintage one with a bit of history.

      Any yes, the recipe is very easy! I’m sure your windmill one will work just fine. My parents have similar ones from Germany based on the Grimm fairytales, and they work a treat when making these sort of biscuits.

      • hopeeternal

        Thanks for this helpful info which I will keep a note of for our next visit. It sounds as if finding a D & K would be fairly straightforward and the Brussels address is helpful. Not sure how my family would feel about being dragged around antique shops though!
        I’m sure the windmill will be fine – I just fancy something a bit more authentic. If I’m going to make something I like to do it properly!!
        h/e

        • Best of luck with finding them. However…I did a search on eBay yesterday for speculaas and Springerle moulds, and they have them by the barrowload. Authentic old ones from Germany which look lovely – so if you’re looking for something about a foot tall, that might be the place to go, plus you’ll have it much sooner than waiting to go to Belgium.

  3. hopeeternal

    Thanks, but I have given up with eBay and would actually prefer something new, so am happy to wait and use my windmill cutter until then. Not sure about food high biscuits as I want to serve them with coffee!
    Gives a good reason to book a ticket for the tunnel. I already know which little cutter I would like from D & K ….
    Thanks again for all the info – and the lovely selection of seasonal recipes recently, all of which I am keeping a note.
    h/e

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  6. Dutchess Roz

    Great post and thank you for the link back! I love speculaas, it’s such a nice combination of spices and your biscuits look great🙂 love your blog. Roz

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