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It’s that time of year in the northern hemisphere when as temperatures drop and daylight hours shorten it seems your taste buds tickle for sweet treats. This time last year we visited the beautiful medieval city of Bruges in Belgium and while we certainly got our chocolate hit we also fell in love with the marvel that is speculoos – deliciously spiced and incredibly moreish butter biscuits.
What are speculoos?
Depending on where you come from Belgian speculoos/speculaas (from Holland) are short butter biscuits traditionally baked to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas or Sinterklaas around the 6th of December. Children in these countries leave out their shoes near the fireplace on the eve of the feast and, much like our Santa Claus, are rewarded with treats like these delicious biscuits if they have been well-behaved.
The distinctive flavour of the biscuits comes from a heady mix of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, white pepper and cardamom. Recipes for speculoos started appearing in the late seventeenth century after the expansion of Dutch interests in the far east and vary mainly in terms of their mix of spices.
Dutch speculaas are typically more puffy than the flatter and crisper Belgian variety but both versions are stamped using a wooden stamp of an ornate picture of scenes often from the tales of St Nicholas.
This weekend I went searching for speculoos among the christmas markets of London but was unsuccessful – mainly due to supervisory requirements of a couple of two year olds. I am sure they are out there! Anyway, feeling dejected in a way that can only be felt when one hasn’t found their speculoos, I decided to have a go at making them myself.
I did a bit of research to find a recipe I liked and kept stumbling onto American sites. So I have adapted this one from The Dutch Bakers Daughter. The outcome was a spicy and flat biscuit/cookie. I tried to use a stamp but it all got a bit tricky. There was slightly too much clove flavour for my taste so next time I make them I’ll reduce the amount I add. Other than that, my first attempt at speculoos are delicious and I’ll be baking them again soon.
INGREDIENTS 225g unsalted butter, softened 2 teaspoons vanilla 200g white sugar 275g dark brown sugar 2 large eggs 437.5g flour 2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate soda) 2 1/2 tablespoons speculoos spice mix* 1 teaspoon sea salt * Speculoos spice mix: 8 teaspoons cinnamon 2 teaspoons nutmeg 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon white pepper 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon cardamom DIRECTIONS Cream butter, vanilla, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add both eggs and blend well. Whisk all the dry ingredients together and slowly add to the butter mixture. Mix until the dough is firm and not sticky. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight. Heat oven to 180°C Roll out dough to ½ or ¼ cm thick and cut with cookie cutters. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
But wait, there’s more speculoos!
If you aren’t inclined to bust out your baking skills and are looking for a quick fix – these beauties will do the trick. Not quite the same but still, I challenge you to stop at one. Sometimes in Europe you will find one sitting beside your coffee in a little packet. Time for a happy dance when that happens.
And if you thought Nutella was peak yumminess in a jar..
This speculoos spread has been dubbed “crack in a jar” and for good reason. It’s supposed to be a spread for toast however it’s almost banned in our house because it miraculously disappears within days and is never seen on a scrap of toast. Therefore I suspect it has been devoured by the spoonful.. I’ve only done it once I swear! You can find both smooth and crunchy options. I prefer the crunchy – somehow the biscuit bits take the experience to a whole other level.
Speculoos – the final word
Having admitted to the above less than classy habit of scoffing my speculoos from a jar I must admit they are perhaps best consumed in the traditional way – slowly with a mug of hot chocolate. Then again, I have tried these amazing truffles available from Godiva and frankly you could do worse than start your speculoos journey here.
However you eat them, t’is the season for speculoos so you have every reason to try them any which way you like.