Sunday, November 23, 2008

Speculaas (Belgian or Dutch Spice Cookies)

Saturday, November 22, 2008
Tonight is the night from Sinterklaas,
For you, I have baked some speculaas!


It's actually not the night from Sinterklaas, which is, I believe, December 5, but I did bake some speculaas, recipe courtesy of Melinda, who suggested these cookies as a project for the Lazy Bakers.
Melinda had an ulterior motive for choosing this recipe. On a recent trip to Belgium, she picked up a wooden speculaas mold, which she will use whenever she gets around to baking these. I actually looked up speculaas molds on the internet, not wanting her cookies to completely outshine mine, but 1) they were from $35 to $100+ and 2) they came with many detailed instructions on what to do if the cookie dough stuck to the mold. I immediately envisioned a process that would involve a lot of cursing and would culminate in cookies that would be fit only for giving to bad children, so I abandoned that plan.
Apparently December 6, St. Nicholas Day, is a big deal in the Low Countries. The saint heads toward Belgium and the Netherlands on a slow boat from Spain laden with cookies and other presents that he gives to good children. I believe the children leave their wooden shoes out in front of their bedroom doors, hoping that the shoes will be filled with gifts in the morning. I expect that St. Nicholas fills the shoes of both good and bad children, as Santa does in the U.S. This tradition has never caught on in the U.S. Perhaps we just can't relate to the boat from Spain idea.
I was afraid that if you didn't have the molds, you had to roll out the cookie dough, but, fortunately for me, once I got around to reading the recipe, I saw that you just shape the dough into logs, refrigerate it, and slice into rectangles. My favorite kind of cookie dough.
The recipe also directs you to cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or with two knives. I've tried the two-knife technique, completely without success. So whenever I see, "cut with two knives," I translate into "use the food processor."

Maybe if you have a very fine palate, you can tell the difference between dough mixed with knives and dough mixed in the food processor, but I can't. The dough's only liquid is three tablespoons of milk. I used part skim milk and part cream because I had them both, and I had to add a few more tablespoons of cream to make the dough workable.

As an aside, when Melinda first suggested this cookie, I posed an objection because of the name. I said that I didn't want to make a cookie that reminded me of a gynecological instrument, and she told me that I could call it a spice cookie instead of speculaas (some people call them speculoos). I think that speculaas and speculum both come from the same Latin root--the word for mirror--but why these dark brown cookies are named after mirrors is a mystery to me.
After the dough is shaped and refrigerated for a few hours, or overnight if you prefer,

they are sliced into one-quarter-inch slices and baked.

At this point, you may think, as I did, that they didn't look too promising. Oddly enough, they turned out to be quite attractive.

And quite delicious. Jim was an especially enthusiastic sampler of speculaas. I told him to eat whatever he wanted, because whatever was left on Monday morning was going in to work. I also gave a dozen to my friend Karen, who watched me take them out of the oven, and who was also quite taken with them. They're crisp and buttery--more like shortbread than other spice cookies I've eaten. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of almonds. The only thing I would do differently is increase the almonds significantly because the nut's crunchiness is very good in these cookies. There may not be many left by Monday morning.

And here are Jini's pictures. Jini doesn't have a blog, although she should, but she's a good baker who likes to try new recipes. We both love to sample the food brought into the Edesia cookbook series.

24 comments:

jini said...

hi marie......excellent speculums, er aas. :>) they do look delicious and it's nice to know they are possible without the sticky molds. it sounds like they are particularly delicious ice box cookies!
i will put them on my lengthy to-do list. edesia is monday. see you i hope.

breadbasketcase said...

Jini,
If you make them, send me a picture and I'll post it. That's exactly what they are--particularly delicious ice box cookies.
I'm not sure about Edesia--I will either be there to learn about shortcuts for holiday dining, or I will be planning my Thanksgiving menu.

Melinda said...

Hello Marie! Your little mirrors look great. I am glad they tasted good too.
You've thrown down the gauntlet...now everyone will be expecting me to do the molded cookies. I was going to hide them or pretend I changed my mind if they didn't turn out proper-like! The heat is on now to make them perfect.
Jeannette sent me pictures of hers 2 days ago, so she is the first in this time. I will post hers when I get mine done. I was going to do them this weekend but I have had a terrible cold and cough. I didn't want to bake in the illness!
Your write up are always so funny! I like the idea of my wooden shoes being filled up with treats, by a saint, in a boat, from Spain. (I always thought St. Nicholas was a Turk in reality.?)
Your spice cookies look delicious!

breadbasketcase said...

Melinda,
I did throw down the gauntlet, didn't I? I might have felt a little bad about it, but I have great confidence in your ability. Did Jeannette make hers in a mold or did she do the icebox-cookie method too?
I don't know about the Spanish boat; that's just what I read. Apparently it's a ferry, because he brings his (Turkish) horse with him on the boat. Whoa! Do you believe this?

Melinda said...

Jeannette were sliced like yours. They look equally yummy.
You know...I just love these cookies.
I can't wait to make my own, so I can sit down with a cup of coffee and snarf 4 cookies in a row!
I believe everything you say Marie. You are a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

I've been eagerly waiting to see what everyone else's Speculaas would look like, as there was no picture with the recipe, and now I see yours! Yours do look nice, more golden that mine I think, and I like the way you've shaped them, more oval than round as I did them. Now I'll know for next time! There will be a next time as I find them very morish, do you?
Jeannette.

evil cake lady said...

Oh my gosh! I'd better get on it and get these cookies baked!

BBC your non-gynecological cookies look very crisp and spicy, which happens to be my favorite kind of cookie. Thank you SO MUCH for translating "cut in with two knives" for me--good to know what they really mean is "use the food processor." Phew.

I am also impressed by your further research into Speculoos (See how I spelled that? Just for you.) and St. Nicholas Day in Belgium. Who knew that St Nick came from Spain? Well I guess the Belgians did and maybe the Spaniards too, but you know what I mean.

Doughadear said...

Marie, the Speculaas look just great and must be wonderful with a cup of coffee or tea. I think these would be a lovely addition to a tray of Christmas cookies.
Oriana

markinch said...

If you are wondering, the "mirror" name is because the molded cookies are the mirror imaage of the mold. : )
www.stnicholascenter.org

markinch said...

If you are wondering, the "mirror" name is because the molded cookies are the mirror imaage of the mold. : )
www.stnicholascenter.org

breadbasketcase said...

Melinda,
Snarfing four at a time with coffee is definitely the way to go here. You may try eating one dainty little cookie, but soon you'll take another, and another....


Jeannette,
Mine are now entirely gone, which may gave you an idea of how morish I thought they were. I want to see yours too! I'm sorry Melinda was sick, but she is going to have to start working on these cookies--not only her public, but also your public, is waiting.

ECL,
I didn't know a blessed thing about speculaas or St. Nick on the Spanish boat until I read up on it, but you know you can't believe everything you read on the Net.
You will love these cookies!

breadbasketcase said...

Oriana,
I'm thinking that I may have to bake another batch as part of my annual Christmas cookie bake, but this time I'll put them in the freezer so they don't get eaten immediately.

Markinch,
I was hoping that someone would know why they were named after the Latin word for mirror! The st.nicholas.org web site has a lot of interesting information, by the way.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting read. Growing up in Milwaukee, "St. Nick" came the night of Dec 5th so when you woke up on the 6th your stocking was full. It was a nice pre-Christmas...mostly we got candy, good fruit from the fruit market, and coloring books or Barbie clothes (sometimes clothes for Ken, too, because he really only had that one outfit he came in). So, your story helps me make sense of the dates since my friends from other parts of the US have never head of such a thing. They had their stocking filled for the 25th.

Not to brag, but I think I got the better deal.

On anther note, Marie, I recall your outrage at the price of W-S cake pans. Did you see that All-Clad came out with a line? One the plus side, there is the All-Clad quality and someone FINALLY thought to put handles on the darn things. But, for a 9" SINGLE pan, what does it cost? $89.95 at Sur La Table! Isn't there something wrong when three cake pans cost more than a KA mixer?

*looks around*

Is it just me, or is this crazy?

Anyway, best wishes to Marie and all of the lovely ladies who check into the site. I hope everyone has a really nice Thanksgiving.

All best,
Laura Lee (or Laura NYC)

jini said...

hi marie....edesia on monday was a good one. the nice news is that is will not meet in december, but will continue in 2009.
we are off to watch a college football game which is played on friday.
happy thanksgiving!

breadbasketcase said...

Laura Lee from NYC,
I like the St. Nicholas Day tradition. When are girls were young, we had an advent calendar that had small boxes to be opened every day. I filled them with tiny gifts, money, or candy and they took turns opening them. It was a fun way of working up to The Big Day.
I didn't know about the $90 cake pans, but that is truly outrageous! How many cakes would you have to make to justify that outlay?
I LOVE the people who write notes on this blog. Happy Thanksgiving to you and to anyone else who is reading this!

Jini,
I was feeling a little panicked about Thanksgiving, and I spent Monday night looking through cookbooks. My menu finally came together.
I'm glad Edesia will continue next year--I wondered if Kim would want to keep it up. Her audience has been growing steadily. I've been a little disappointed that it's veered away from actually reviewing cookbooks and has become more personal stories, but it's still fun.

pinknest said...

excellent excellent! i love a thin, nutty and buttery cookie. i actually make something very similar around the holidays already and i hope to try this recipe!

breadbasketcase said...

Pinknest,
Do make them--they are completely addictive!

Jude said...

that's how expensive those molds are? I'm sure your cookies are just as good, if not better than, the molded ones.

breadbasketcase said...

Jude,
They may be just as good, but they're not as impressive. Check out the molded cookies Melinda made
at www.pickworth.me.uk
They're really spectacular speculaas!

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nashja said...

Marie, thanks so much for this recipe. My father's family is from the Netherlands, and he used to buy what I called "windmill cookies," because they were that shape. Your cookies looked like those, and when I googled "Dutch windmill cookies" up popped recipes for speculaas. His 80th birthday is coming soon, so I've added these to the menu. Along with a lemon tart--the only two items on the menu so far.

Melinda said...

Came to look at your speculaas Jini!
They look good. Did you like them?

breadbasketcase said...

Nashja,
How nice of you to make these cookies for your father! Your menu sounds excellent so far.

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