Monthly Archives: January 2019

Wrapping Up the Festive Fun

With the excitement of New Year behind us, we’re already taken down the last of the decorations. The tradition is to keep them up until Epiphany on 6 January. But we usually put them back in the loft on 1 January – I just like the feeling of order and calm that comes with putting everything away for another year and giving everything a good clean.

I wrote last year that we organised a festive bake-off at work, and we did the same again this year. We did well last year, but the standard really increased this time. I kind of left it to the last minute, and found myself at midnight putting the finishing touches to a batch of saffron buns. They went down well, but they could not hold a candle to the elaborate gingerbread house that one of my colleagues agonised over for the best part of a week. A worthy winner. The judges even suggested that next year’s even should allow only gingerbread houses, and perhaps the bakers’ takes on London landmarks. We’ll see how people feel about that nearer the time, eh?

Back home, this year has seen the eighth installment of the Twelve Days of Festive Baking. This means that I have made 96 separate recipes from around the world. If you are curious, can see the previous recipes from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Each year is a bit of a rush but it is always fun. And as I lamented last year, what I am finding is that it is becoming more challenging to find new recipes which are linked to the festive season and which are also interesting to make and taste good. And over the years, I’ve also made a few things which did not make the final cut, so if you are sitting on an idea and want to share it, then please do! But the fact I’ve done the more obvious things does mean I’m getting more creative and have been willing to try things that in the past I might have skipped over. So the hunt is on for next year. For the GBBO fans out there, I’m still trying to decide if I should try making Laufabrauð, that elaborate Icelandic leaf bread.

So here’s to my 2018 edition – and next time we get to hit and pass the magic hundred!


Finally, as has become a tradition, I’ve set out the original lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas against each of the recipes to see if there is any sort of correlation. As in the past, there seems to be none. But did you know that each year the people at PNC Wealth Management put together the Christmas Price Index? They work out the “true cost of Christmas” if you really were to get all the gifts in the song for your beloved. You would end up with 364 separate “gifts”, but the index does make some adjustments – for example, they assume the people are being paid for their drumming or dancing services for the day, rather than being actually sold (!). This year, they reckon you would be shelling out $39,094.93, not including shipping or travel costs. Given the choice between a menagerie and a house full of dancers and musicians, I’m quite keen to have a house full of festive cookies!

So how did I compare to the song?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

…twelve Drummers Drumming (Dutch Speculaasbrokken)…
…eleven Pipers Piping (Austrian Brabanzerl)…
…ten Lords-a-Leaping (Norwegian Krumkaker)…
…nine Ladies Dancing (Italian Parrozzo)…
…eight Maids-a-Milking (Portuguese Broas Castelares)…
…seven Swans-a-Swimming (Spanish Cordiales de Murcia)…
…six Geese-a-Laying (Italian Canstrelli)…
…five Gold Rings (Belgian Cougnou)…
…four Colly Birds (Sugared Almonds)…
…three French Hens (German Berliner Brot)…
…two Turtle Doves (Swedish Finska Pinnar)…
…and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Swiss Chräbeli)!

So 2018 is over. And I think this has been a fun selection. My favourites were the Berliner Brot, the Chräbeli and the Brabanzerl. They all seemed truly and properly festive.

Now…time to think about what might appear in 2019’s edition!

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{12} Speculaasbrokken

I had grand plans to make something from the Netherlands this year – the duivekater, a Christmas loaf which a long history that even appears in famous artwork from the Dutch Golden Age. Well, you can see from the name of this post that it is not what happened. I did manage to make a duivekater for Christmas day, and it was certainly delicious, but I did it all in something of a rush. So much so that it ended up looking like something that would not have been out of place on cakewrecks rather than being the jolly photogenic festive centrepiece I had in mind. Of course I will give it another go, so I’ve already added it to my list for next year’s baking.

But this leaves me with one bake missing. So what to do? Well, something else, obviously! I’ve reflected on all the complex, intricate things I made this year, and have decided to go in the opposite direction this time. I’ve made speculaasbrokken, which are simple, quick and delicious. You might think that I made something a bit fancy and then dropped it by mistake, but this is what they should look like – the name means “pieces” or “chunks” of speculaas, or Dutch spiced biscuits.


Speculaas cookies is a key part of Christmas in the Netherlands, and you can find the famous “windmill cookies” with their intricate designs formed using wooden moulds, and more simple “spiced nuts” which are rolled into little balls and baked. You can make the special speculaas spice mixture yourself if you have the time and inclination, otherwise you can used mixed spice or pumpkin spice for a similar effect. Whatever you do, make sure you’re pretty generous with the spices!

The method here is really easy. You throw everything in a bowl, make a dough, then chill it, roll it and bake it. Either make one mega-cookie or four smaller ones. After baking, you can either break it into pieces and serve it à la manière rustique but I think there is something quite satisfying and a little bit dramatic about brining it whole to the table and then smashing it in front of your guests. 

To make speculaasbrokken:

• 300g plain white flour
150g unsalted butter
160g dark brown sugar
• 6 teaspoons mixed spices
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if using salted butter)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cold water
whole or flaked almonds, for decoration

1. Put all the ingredients apart from the water and almonds into a bowl, and work with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film, flatten, and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll the dough out to 3/4 cm thickness – you can do it in one large pieces, or make 4 separate pieces. Brush with milk and put almonds on top. If you are using whole almonds, you can make some sort of pattern, or you can use flaked almonds, in which case just sprinkle and press them down.

4. Bake the speculaas for around 45 minutes until it is dark looks evenly cooked. Turn half-way for an even colour.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then either break it into pieces to store, or keep it whole and smash it when you have guests for maximum impact.

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