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Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Time for Speculaas!

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper are the main ingredients for a special Dutch treat called "speculaas". The word seemingly originated from the Latin word "speculum", mirror, in reference to the way the goods were prepared: the dough was pressed into a wooden decorated form, turned over and knocked out onto the baking sheet. The cookie now carried a "mirrored" image. In the old days by the end of November, bakers all over the country would initiate a subtle but effective sales strategy by throwing a handful of their speculaas spices in the bread oven's fire. The smoke would carry the wonderful smells into the streets, announcing the beginning of the speculaas baking season. Once you start baking this dough in your own kitchen, you'll know why: it makes the house smell wonderful!

Speculaas is no longer a unique December treat. An industrialized baking process has made speculaas an every day kind of cookie in the Netherlands and it's available year round for all to enjoy, even here in the US. As for me, I still wait until the beginning of December before I start baking speculaas, somehow the "once-a-year"-ity of it makes it into such a special occassion.

This year, I opted for two: cookies and "brokken". Speculaas can be eaten in  many shapes and sizes, but my favorites are "brokken", chunks. I bake a slab of speculaas in the oven until it's ready, and when it's cooling down on the counter, I break it into large chunks. Not pretty and fufu-ey, but a lot easier and just as yummie!

Before I start, I make my own mixture of spices. Everybody has a preference for one or more spices in the mix, so feel free to adjust and experiment accordingly. As for me, I am not big on either nutmeg or cloves so barely put in the minimum.

Speculaas Brokken

2 cups of self-rising flour*
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of speculaas spices**
1 stick of butter, cold
3 tablespoons of milk

Optional: sliced almonds

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl until well integrated. Divide the butter into small pieces and cut into the dry mixture until crumbly. Moisten the mix with a tablespoon of milk at a time, and knead the dough until the butter and the spices are well blended, about ten times. Pat the dough into a flat oval, wrap securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate preferably overnight, but at least for four hours. This will allow the spices to thoroughly release all their goodness into the dough.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If you are baking on a silicone mat or on parchment paper, place the dough on top, cover with the plastic wrap and roll into an oval shape, about 1/2 inch high. Pull back the plastic wrap, sprinkle the almonds on top (optional) and softly roll the almonds onto the dough, just enough to where they're stuck.

Move your silicone mat or parchment paper onto the baking sheet, place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes. Check regularly as you want to avoid burning the bottom. Remove when the edges are crisping up (the rest of the speculaas will still be soft) and rest on a cooling rack until lukewarm. Break the oval into chunks and allow them to cool and harden, about another hour. Great with a steaming cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.




* If you don't have self-rising flour, measure out two cups of all purpose flour and add two heaping teaspoons of baking powder and a large pinch of salt.

** For the spices: start with a heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mix in a 1/4 scant teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon scant ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon white ground pepper. Smell and decide if you like it. Too much clove? Add in a bit more cinnamon. Prefer more ginger? Feel free to add some more. You can also throw in a pinch of aniseed or cardamom to make it bolder. Store in an airtight jar.
If you don't feel comfortable mixing the speculaasmix yourself, try finding them on one of the many online stores that sell Dutch foods.

4 comments:

  1. Very nicely presented. Very quaint and proper looking for a tea party

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  2. I love the idea of cooking a big chunk and breaking it up:) I'm still trying to get my speculaas spices right. I made some pepernoten though that got close to tasting like speculaas!

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  3. Oh my goodness! I'm so happy to have found your blog! My parents were Dutch immigrants and so I grew up eating speculaas and stroopwafels, and went to school with hagelslag sandwiches, etc... I'm in culinary school to become a baker, and want to have my own bakery with a lot of those dutch goodies I grew up with. I was wondering if you had any tips for using the molds, I tried to make windmill speculaas, but had a very hard time getting them out of the mold.

    Maria

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  4. Maria, welcome to the site! Aren't hagelslag sandwiches just the best?! As for the molds....try lining the molds with plastic film before you press in the dough, then placing them in the freezer just long enough for the dough to tighten up. Turn the mold over, whack it on the table and they should fall out. If they don't, or if you'd rather not bang the mold on your work surface, gently tug on the film and you should be able to lift them up without any issue. Let them come to room temp before baking. Hope this helps!

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