tis the season…Holiday cooking!

Spicy Speculaas are traditional Dutch koekjes (cookies) baked for St. Nichola’s Feast day…or Sinterklaas, on December 5th, although they are so popular they are gladly now available year round at specialty food shops.

A richly spiced shortbread dough, a throwback to the Dutch spice trade of the 18th century in Indonesia and the Spice Islands of Maluku,  is traditionally pressed into hand carved wooden molds representing favored characters of Dutch folk lore, released onto baking trays and baked into rustic,dark, crispy, and fanciful aromatic koekjes. The aroma alone filling the kitchen every time I bake them brings back such fond memories of Speculaas from my years spent in Holland. I do urge to try them! Speculaas will surely become a favorite to add to your holiday baking repertoire and, for that matter, for baking them year round. 

If you happen to have Speculaas molds, by all means use them. That said, using molds is a tedious proposition, but I have included notes at the end of this post for instructions. 

The recipe that follows is for cutting the dough from a loaf or rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters instead of the traditional molds works splendidly.

Speculaas Spice Mix  Makes more than you need for this recipe, but stores well for future baking. 

  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground clove
  • 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground anise seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom

Combine the ingredients and store in an airtight jar.

Speculaas dough recipe

  • 1 ½ cups + 1 tablespoon pastry or all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons speculaas spice mix
  • ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 8 tablespoons / 4 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk or whole milk  
  • ½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted and chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten, for wash  
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almond slivers, whole for decorating
  • sugar + cinnamon mixture for lightly dusting

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spice mix, and salt together in a bowl.

In another bowl combine the butter and brown sugar and whip together until fluffy. Add the buttermilk or milk and whip until smooth.

Begin mixing in by hand the sifted ingredients and chopped toasted almonds into the butter mixture alternately. The dough will gradually come together and release from the sides of the bowl. Work the dough into a ball once all the flour and almonds have been incorporated.

Remove the dough from the bowl and form into an even ball,  flattening it out  if you plan to roll it out for cut cookies. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

If you prefer  slicing the cookies as I have done here, place a piece of parchment on your work surface. Place the dough on top and begin to wedge the dough into a rectangular loaf  about   8 inches in long, 4 inches wide, and 1 1/2 inches thick.  Use a dough scraper to even up the sides and ends of the loaf. Place another piece of parchment on the top surface of the loaf and flip over and gently pat any uneven surfaces into a uniform loaf. Wrap the loaf in cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 330F/165C

 If you  intend to roll the dough out for cutting with cookie cutters, allow to rest a few minutes and then begin to roll out the dough to about 3/8 inch/1/2 cm thickness. Cut the cookies and place on baking sheets, lined with parchment or a Silpot non-stick baking mat, highly recommended for trouble free cookie baking) with a little space between each cookie.

For slicing cookies from the loaf, simply slice across the loaf to about 3/8 inch thickness. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment or Silpot with a little space between each cookie.

Brush the centers of the cookies lightly with egg wash and stick several slivered almond slices onto the center. Dust with the cinnamon sugar mixture and transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, being careful not to overcook.

Remove the baking trays from the oven and set aside for several minutes to cool before removing the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

When the Speculaas are completely cool, transfer to an airtight container and store for up to several weeks.

Note for using traditional wooden molds:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and dust the Speculaas molds with rice flour and press dough into the mold. Trim excess dough around the edges of the mold and carefully lift the Specullaas  out of the mold, turn over in the palm of your hand, brush off any excess rice flour, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment or Silpat. 


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