5 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Speculaas

Sinterklaas marks the beginning of winter festivities and while it may not be winter in Australia (although Melbourne is trying) it still heralds the oncoming celebrations of flavour and warmth throughout December. More than any other biscuit I adore Speculaas. The combination of perfumed spices, creamy salted butter and deeply sweet brown sugar all in a crisp biscuit is phenomenal, but before you can begin to make Speculaas you must first summon a breeze from the East Indies laden with spices. While you can buy jars of Speculaas spice it is far more fun to blend your own personal mix, which incidentally makes for a great gift along with a recipe for Speculaas and some freshly baked biscuits (if you can part with them)!
Tonight is Pakjesavond and like children all over the Netherlands and Belgium my childhood clogs are set out with a carrot for Sinterklaas horse. Unlike when I was a child, I have filled my own clogs with chocolate coins, walnuts, oranges, and little pakjes of Speculaas tied up with string to give to my friends (and in that tradition of my family I have even bought myself a new toothbrush to counteract my sugar intake!)

The two things you must get right when making Speculaas are your spice mix and the crispness of the biscuit. The spice mix is an intoxicating blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and pepper. Do not leave out any of these, especially not the pepper, because without it your biscuit will be nice but not extraordinary. Always let your dough sit in the fridge overnight to allow the spices to fully impart their magic. Speculaas need to be cooked just right otherwise they are chewy and that is not what you are looking for. After 12 minutes, take a look at your biscuits - the tops should be well on their way to golden brown but more importantly the bottoms of the biscuits should have even bubbles and no sign of dough. When in doubt, leave them in for 4 or so more minutes. They are one biscuit that benefits from staying in the oven.
Speculaas should be a joy for all the senses, from rolling out the soft dough or pressing it into a wooden mold, to the heavy scent that fills every room as they bake, then comes the crunch of that first bite, finally as you wipe the crumbs from the corners of your mouth and reach for another there remains the warmth of butter and spice in your mouth... my gift to you this Sinterklaas is my spice mix and Speculaas recipe, an amalgamation of endless recipes, and many many biscuits baked, tweaked and eaten. Eet Smakelijk!
I got my wooden windmill mold here in Australia from the Dutch Store and the snowflakes from Baking Pleasures. I got a regular snowflake and a mini snowflake cutter and cut out the middles of the regular ones with the mini to get the biscuit shape above.

Speculaas Spice:
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Speculaas Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (120 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup white caster sugar (55 grams)
  • 1/4 cup demerera sugar (55 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed (110 grams)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups plain flour (300 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons 'Speculaas Spice'
  1. Preheat oven to 160˚C (my oven runs cold so I bake these at 170˚C - know your oven) 
  2. Using an electric beater combine butter, vanilla and sugars in a large bowl until fully incorporated
  3. add egg and continue beating until pale and fluffy
  4. sift all dry ingredients together, then add to the butter mix using a spoon to start, then your hands until it is fully combined (if your dough feels a little sticky add a little more flour and knead until soft but smooth)  
  5. divide into 3 lots and shape each into a disk, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight
  6. If you are using a traditional wooden mold, dust the mold with rice flour (tap out any excess), pinch off small amounts of dough and press them into the mould until full, press once with your palm to compact, then turn upside down and give a good whack on the table and your biscuit should drop out. (If it is your first time using the mold rub it with coconut oil, or another oil that does not go rancid, allowing the wood to absorb the oil then dust with rice flour and away you go)
  7. Considerably quicker is to roll your dough out between 2 sheets of baking paper to a thickness of approximately 3 mm, then use a cookie cutter to cut out your desired shape. Speculaas were made to be cooked in the middle of winter, if it's a hot day roll out your dough, put this in the fridge until firm then cut out your biscuits - it will be considerably easier than trying to lift warm buttery dough!
  8. leave a little room between each Speculaas on the tray as they do spread a very small amount
  9. bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until fully cooked (no dough!) feel free to taste several to make sure they are cooked
  10. if you are not eating them all immediately (my eyebrows are raised with a knowing look) allow to cool thoroughly before storing in an airtight container. If you do given them as gifts, make sure your packages are air tight so they remain crisp

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