Tag Archives: speculaas

{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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{11} Gevulde Speculaas

When I lived in Belgium, Christmas was marked by the presence of speculoos biscuits. Actually, pretty much every day was marked with speculoos, but at Christmas, they went from being delicious small additions to a cup of coffee to something altogether grander, culminating the two or three foot biscuits that were shaped into the image of Saint Nicholas in December. They are also a feature of Christmas in the Netherlands, where their name is tweaked to speculaas, and they gain more spice than their Belgian cousins. If you want to make the biscuits, I turned my hand to them last year. They can be made either by rolling out the dough and cutting or using the chill/roll/slice technique, but ideally you would use traditional wooden moulds to shape into windmills, chickens, men and women.

There is also a more elaborate version of speculaas, which is called gevulde speculaas, or “filled speculaas”. This is made with a layer of dough, similar to that used to make speculaas cookies, then filled with almond paste, and topped with more dough. The whole is then baked, and finally cut into smaller pieces.

gevuldespeculaas_2

The dough is a rather straightforward affair, but the filling was more interesting. I always just assumed this was made from marzipan, but this is something that the Dutch call amandelspijs. This is a paste made from almond, sugar and eggs, and in some cases flavoured with a little lemon zest. This was traditionally a high-quality ingredient in baked goods, and using it considered a sign of quality.

gevuldespeculaas_1

However, it was also an expensive item, and the temptation was inevitably there to use cheaper versions. This resulted in the development of something called banketbakkerspijs (“bakery spijs”) which was made from a combination of weird and wonderful ingredients such as bitter apricot kernels and white beans. I can see why the alternative name developed – croissant aux amandes sounds nice, white bean and ground kernel croissant less so!

Anyway, back to today’s recipe. I made my amandelspijs the posh way (I’ll leave my bean-based confectionery to the Japanese, thanks). However, I felt that the mixture of just ground almonds, sugar and egg lacked sufficient almond flavour (I’ve probably been raised on things flavoured with apricot kernels and have thus had my sense of taste destroyed…). I corrected with a few drops of almond extract. You could also use a spoon or two of amaretto liqueur. I also added some lemon zest, which appeared in a few of the sources I looked at. This is entirely up to you, but it does add a little extra flavour and a certain “freshness” to the filling.

When it comes to the spices, there is traditional Dutch mixture called speculaaskruiden (“speculaas spices”) that can be made from things you probably have in the store cupboard. I find the key flavours in there are the generous use of cloves relative to other spice mixes. However, you could use any spice mixture you like, such as pumpkin pie spices, or even just good old allspice.

The resulting cake is very rich, as the speculaas does not turn crisp like a biscuits, but instead you get a spiced pastry encasing the rich filling. You can really use as little or as much filling as you like (I’ve seen everything from a small sliver to a very thick slab of filling!) but I think a ratio of equal parts pastry and filling seems to work pretty well.

To make Gevulde Speculaas

Makes 16-25 pieces

Filling

• 150g ground almonds
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/4 lemon, zest only
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pastry

• 250g self-raising flour
• 125g dark brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons mixed spice or speculaaskruiden
• 150g butter, cold
• 1 egg

To finish: whole almonds

1. Make the filling – mix all the ingredients to a smooth paste (if too stiff, add a little water). Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.

2. The next day, make the pastry – put everything apart from the egg into a bowl and work with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add 2/3 of the egg (reserve the rest) and work to a smooth, soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for one hour.

3. Now prepare the speculaas. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and line a square tin with greaseproof paper.

4. Take half the dough. Roll out to a size a few centimetres larger than the base of the tin. Transfer into the tin – press the base down, and leave the edges. Add the filling, smooth down, then fol the edges onto the filling – you want a seam of around one centimetre (half an inch), so you might need to trim the excess.

5. Roll out the other half of the dough, and trim to the size of the tin. With a little water, moisten the seam you’ve left on the base, then add the topping to the tin. Press the edges lightly, then use a blunt knife to score lines to mark the edge of each piece. You can do 4 x 4 (for 16 pieces) or 5 x 5 (for 25 pieces).

6. Take the reserved 1/3 egg. Mix with two tablespoons of cold water and brush to top. Place an almond in the centre of each piece.

7. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then remove from the tin. You can either cut into individual pieces now, or keep whole and cut pieces as needed.

Worth making? This is straightforward recipe if you’ve got the time, and a nice idea if you want something that is almond-based by want to steer clear of using a lot of marzipan. The flavour works wonderfully with the spices in the pastry too.

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{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!

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{2} Speculaaskruiden

If you’re going to make festive biscuits, you need to get spicy!

Hence the second part of the “Twelve Goodies of Christmas” is a traditional spice mixture from the Netherlands.

Last year, I made a batch of German Lebkuchengewürz. Rather than trying more of the same, this year I’ve taken some inspiration from further west, and made a batch of Dutch speculaaskruiden (speck-oo-lass-krau-den).

My last mixture served me well over the past year, in everything from biscuits to fruit pies and compotes. So if you’re a little apprehensive about making a batch of mixed spice on the basis you won’t use it all, don’t worry. A little pinch of these sort of mixtures will add a lovely gingerbread flavour in place of plain old cinnamon.

I know that you would not normally arrange spices on neat little paper squares, but I found it quite interesting to see how the colours of each spice vary, and as you work with each, the different aromas will fill your kitchen with the most wonderful warm, woody smells. The warmth of cinnamon and ginger, pungent cloves, fresh cardamom and coriander and aromatic nutmeg, star anise and mace.

In making this, I used ground spices for a number of the ingredients – I’ve tried to grind cloves before, but they are tough little fellows, so you end up using a coffee grinder, and frankly – you’ll never get rid of the smell! Fine if you happen to like spiced coffee, but I don’t. So for the really tough ones, I buy pre-ground. However, I did grind some of them myself – the cardamom seeds were tackled with a mortar and pestle, while the nutmeg and star anise got the grater treatment. Just be sure to pass them through a very fine sieve, so you get rid of any woody bits of spice.

What you will notice when you compare the Dutch and German recipes is that they use many of the same basic spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg – but in different proportions. And just as with so many spice mixtures, there are dozens of recipes and many people have their own ways of making them. So treat the list below as a guide, and adjust the amounts as per your preferences. For the authentic flavour, you need to add the cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, but add or omit anything else that takes your fancy.

Now, the big question – what to make with this mixture?

Well, speculaaskruiden is the typical flavour in a number of biscuits – speculaas in the Netherlands, speculoos in Belgium and Spekulatius in Germany. As the names suggest, these are similar types of biscuit – they’re crisp, buttery, sometimes with almonds, and with lots of spice. While they are eaten all year round, they do tasty particularly festive.

That, or add it to cakes, muffins, carrot cakes, crumbles, compotes…whatever your imagination can come up with!

To make speculaaskruiden:

• 7 teaspoons ground cinnamon(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground mace(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger(*)
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds or star anise

(*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional

Put everything in a bowl. Mix well – that’s it! Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Worth making? This mixture is fantastic – different notes come out from the different spices, and adds a pleasant spicy note to many recipes. If you’ve got this to hand, it makes for an easy way to add a rounded spiced flavour to just about anything. Really recommended.

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Maple-Glazed Pear Tart

Today’s post is a very simple but delicious dessert I whipped up recently while staying with friends in Brussels. And boy, do I mean simple.

For regular readers, this might look rather similar to something I posted last year using some luscious crimson Victoria plums. And you would be right! But this time, I replaced the plums with pears, and glazed it with maple syrup rather than honey. I went for maple syrup for no other reason than it was to hand, in a one-litre bottle. Yup, people really do buy it in those quantities, even in Europe.

So just how simple is this? Well, think about it element by element.

The pastry? Rich butter puff pastry…but we got that from a shop, and it was handily already rolled out into a thin disc. Result!

The filling? Ripe pears, just peeled, sliced and artfully arranged on the pastry.

And to finish? A mixture of butter, maple syrup and mixed spice(*), melted together and brushed over the tart. Then it was a light sprinkling with sugar, bake, and that’s it. All in all, this took about 15 minutes to make.

That would be, 15 minutes to make not including time for me to stab my hand with a sharp knife while chatting. I had just finished slicing the pears and arranging them on the tart, and then I genuinely have no idea how this happened. All I know is that it was quick, painful and dramatic. There was a shocked gasp from the next room. Are you alright? I was indeed alright, but the sympathy soon evaporated as the others realised that the tart was quite unaffected by all this, and I was dispatched to a kitchen stool with a glass of wine, instructing someone else to finish the tart. Lesson learned!

To serve, I would not produce this straight from the oven. Rather, either enjoy it while just warm, or at room temperature, with a generous dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Simple, but delicious and just a little bit classy.

(*) We used a Belgian spice mixture called speculaaskruiden (spek-oo-lass-krow-den) in Dutch or épices à spéculoos in French. It’s a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. However, mixed spice or even Christmas Lebkuchengewürz can be used instead.

To make maple-glazed pear tart:

• 1 packet ready-rolled puff pastry (all butter) (approx. 200g)
• 5-6 ripe pears
• 25g butter
• 3 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey)
• pinch of mixed spice
• 1 tablespoon caster sugar, to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Place the pastry on a baking sheet. Use your fingers to crimp the edges.

Peel the pears. Cut into quarters, remove the seeds and core, plus any stalk fibres, then cut into slices. Arrange the slices in an overlapping and artistic pattern on the pastry, pushing them slightly into the pastry.

To make the glaze, put the butter, maple syrup and mixed spice in a saucepan. Heat until just melted, then brush it over the pears. Sprinkle with a little caster sugar.

Bake the tart for around 20 minutes until the pastry is golden at the edges and the pears are just browning (you might need longer, depending on your oven).

Worth making? This is one of the quickest, simplest desserts you can make, and it’s easy to do with things in the cupboard, fridge and the fruit bowl. It’s also easy to change depending on what you’ve got to hand.

 

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