This post is a little late, as speculoos biscuits (speculaas in Dutch) are traditionally baked in Belgium and the Netherlands on the eve of St. Nicholas day, on 5th December (and I did bake them before Christmas). When it comes to enjoying them, though, there really is no need to be so strict. Thin and crunchy, they are the perfect winter treat to accompany a hot coffee or a glass of milk – in January as well!
The speculoos spice mix (speculaaskruiden)
The speculoos spice mix is what sets them apart from gingerbread biscuits. Comforting cinnamon creates the body of the mix; cloves and nutmeg are essential to give it a little warm kick. For two tablespoons of speculoos spice mix, you will need: 4 teaspoons of cinnamon; 1 teaspoon of nutmeg; and 1 teaspoon of ground cloves. You can skip other spices completely or personalise the basic mix by adding a pinch of the one or two spices you like the most (ginger, cardamom, white pepper, coriander, etc.).
The speculoos moulds
Traditionally, speculoos biscuits are stamped on the front with St. Nicholas’ image using handcrafted wooden moulds. In fact, the mould is such a part of the process that the word speculoos apparently comes from the Latin word for mirror (speculum), referring to St. Nicholas’ reflection. If you live in the Netherlands, Belgium or France, finding a speculoos mould should not be difficult; Dille & Kamille sells several online. If you live in Germany, a springerle mould will do the job just as beautifully. Anyone else can either bribe Central European friends or buy the moulds on good old Ebay: search for ‘speculoos mould’, ‘speculaas mould’ or ‘springerle mould’. Of course, you don’t need to use a mould at all: cookie cutters or even the rim of a glass will do.
The dough can be kept in the fridge for up to a week and the spice mix can be kept for a few weeks in an airtight tin in a cool and dry place.
Ingredients (for 20-25 biscuits)
- 500g all-purpose flour
- 300g soft butter
- 280g dark brown sugar
- 70ml water or milk
- 2 tablespoons speculoos spice mix
- 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- a little corn flour for dusting
How to make them
1. In a bowl, beat together 280g dark brown sugar, 300g soft butter and 2 tablespoons speculoos spice mix. Dissolve the resulting cream into 70ml water or milk.
2. Sieve together 500g all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda. Sprinkle the flour over the butter mix and blend to get a thick, not too elastic dough. Be careful not to knead too much.
3. Wrap the ball of dough in cling film and let it cool in the fridge for at least two hours (or overnight).
4. About half an hour before baking, take the dough out of the fridge. Preheat the oven to 170 °C (160 °C for a ventilated oven). Cover your worktop with some baking paper (using baking paper rather than dusting with flour will keep the dough lighter and the worktop cleaner). Cut the dough into four parts. Cover the first one with some cling film and flatten with a rolling pin.
5. If you are using a wooden mould, lightly dust it with some corn flour. Press the dough into the mould with your hand to fit the design and cut the exceeding dough with a cutting wire or a sharp knife. Gently remove the dough from the mould by tapping the mould against the table or using a toothpick. If you are not using a wooden mould, cut the dough into shapes using a cookie cutter or the edge of a glass.
6. Place on a baking sheet covered with baking greaseproof paper. If necessary, place in the fridge to cool for 30 min.
7. Bake at 170°C for around 10-15 min, depending on the size, until the speculoos are a deep golden brown . Turn the oven down if they are darkening too quickly.