Tag Archives: speculaaskruiden

{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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{12} Spiced Chocolate Truffles

‘Tis the night before Christmas…and we’ve finally reached the twelfth post in my festive bakes series!

It’s been a while coming. It’s also been fun. I didn’t quite appreciate the volume of stuff I would be producing, but I know for next year! I will most likely mull over this project in the gap between Christmas and New Year, but at this stage I can say in confidence that it was great fun to do the series, and it’s great that it’s over. If for no other reason than I can stop buying sugar, marzipan and nuts, and instead focus on savoury dishes again. Whew!

Most of the posts in this series have been about baking, so I wanted to do something a little different. And given that chocolate and Christmas seem to go so well together, what about some truffles to capture the flavours of the season?

I have to admit to a fondness for fancy chocolate shops. When I pass one, I like to duck in, and I’m always impressed not just by the aromas or the flavours of what is on offer, but the work that has clearly gone in to making something look beautiful. And I think you have to appreciate it – good chocolate is an experience for all the senses.

I was also planning to write a little about “my favourite chocolate shop” but, in all honesty, there are several in London and Brussels that I love to go to, and it’s not really fair to have to choose between them. Different people are doing different things so why limit yourself to just one?

That said, one of my favourites is Paul A Young, who runs a shop in Islington. I’ve got his book on all things chocolate (truffles, cakes, tarts, pasta…yes, chocolate pasta!). The book includes some stunning recipes that look very well-suited to the festive season. I would love to try his “Three Kings” bar of dark chocolate made with gold, frankincense and myrrh. In fact, I’d originally planned to make it as my final post, but I ran into a few issues – I could not source essential oils in time (i.e. I spent 10 minutes around Covent Garden and the ones at Neal’s Yard said you should not ingest them) and I rather balked at the idea of buying gold just to eat.

So….instead…I’ve opted to make festive truffles infused with spice.

Now, in making these, I had an aim – to make silky-smooth truffle. What I have noticed with spiced truffles is that when someone has just tipped ground spices into the mixture, this can make an otherwise smooth ganache a little “gritty”. Not inedible, but not as smooth as you would like. What I’ve done to address that is to make a spice-infused syrup, which is strained, and thus has all the flavour but none of the bits. I brought a pan of water to the boil, added some sugar and two teaspoons of spice, cooked for a minute, then left to sit overnight. The next morning – very spicy syrup! By leaving the mixture to sit, you also allow the spice powder to settle, so when you come to strain it, you have very little by way of “bits”. So there is a little trick here – if you’re making a mixture that needs 200ml of liquid, boil up 250 or 300ml, so that you get mostly liquid, and don’t need to tip the wet spice powder into the strainer. This keeps the bits out, and keeps things “clear” (ha ha!).

You could use any sort of spices you like in these truffles, but I kept to the festive theme and used a spoonful of my speculaaskruiden mixture and an extra teaspoon of cinnamon. I felt the cinnamon was needed to add some sweetness as well as to balance the stronger flavours of cloves and anise, which are fine in a biscuit but can become too much in a truffle. If you want to try something else, you can use cinnamon on its own, or something more unusual such as star anise, black pepper and cardamom. Intrigued?

The ganache part is actually very easy. Just chop up the chocolate into fine pieces, then pour over the warm (not too hot) liquid, and stir gently. You’ll hopefully end up with a thick, glossy mixture that sets to a firm but workable consistency. At this stage you’ve got two choices – either use as a sweet fondue and dip pieces of fruit and cake into it for a messy pudding, or allow the mixture to set and then form into truffles.

If you’re making truffles, you’ve also got two choices – either keep it simple by shaping them then rolling in cocoa or icing sugar, or adopt the complicated approach by coating them in tempered chocolate. I went to the latter option, and while it is fiddly, it does give you a lovely crisp shell to contrast with the smooth filling. I rolled them in a mixture of cocoa, sugar and cinnamon.

I took some of these as a gift, and if I do say so myself, they looked stunning. I lined the box with purple tissue paper, and I think the overall effect is really rather regal. What do you think?

So that’s it – we’ve done the Twelve Cookies of Christmas (if you’ll let me off with the speculaaskruiden). Things will be quiet for a while as I down tools and enjoy the next couple of weeks. I hope you’re able to spend this time of year with friends and loved ones – wishing everyone Happy Holidays, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

To make spiced chocolate truffles (makes around 35-40):

For the spiced syrup:

• 250ml water
• 2 heaped teaspoons ground spice
• 50g dark brown sugar

Put everything in a saucepan. Stir, bring the boil, simmer for a minute, then leave to sit for several hours or overnight.

Strain the cooled mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Leave the remains of the wet spices at the bottom of the pan – you want the syrup to be as clear as possible.

For the truffles:

• 200ml spiced syrup
• 50g dark brown sugar
• large pinch of salt
• 300g dark chocolate, finely chopped

In a saucepan, bring the syrup, sugar and salt to the boil and simmer for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat.

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Pour the warm liquid over the chocolate, and use a balloon to gently stir the mixture until it is smooth and glossy. Leave to cool to room temperature, then transfer to the fridge until set.

To form the truffles, take teaspoons of the mixture and either use two teaspoons or your hands to form into spheres. Either roll in cocoa or icing sugar, or dip in tempered chocolate (see here or here how to temper chocolate).

Worth making? Making truffles can be a bit fiddly, but it’s actually quite fun and the results are always impressive. I think this way of infusing the mixture with the flavour of spices works really well – a mild, delicate flavour and the resulting ganache is wonderfully smooth. The only problem is stopping at just one.

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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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