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.