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Speculaas

Speculaas are thin spice biscuits, known for their caramelised crunchiness, and also for their beautiful relief designs. They are traditionally baked around the 5th of December in the Netherlands and Belgium to celebrate St Nicholas' day, using skilfully carved wooden moulds.

We were lucky enough to find an old-fashioned speculaasplank (wooden speculaas mold) in a second hand shop. It is very pretty, but we found making speculaas can be a bit of challenge, because the dough tends to get stuck inside the mould. You can dust the inside of the speculaas mould with rice flour to make it easier to remove the unbaked biscuits. Moulds are hard to find, but don’t let that stop you. You can use any biscuit stamp to decorate yours.

Makes about 24 large biscuits.

Ingredients

  • 140 gram butter, softened 
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract     
  • ½ cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup (167 ml) brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt       
  • 1¾ cup (440 ml) plain flour
  • 4 teaspoons (20 ml) speculaas spice (You can make your own! See below.)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml)  sliced almonds
  • Rice flour to dust the mould

Speculaas spice

  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) cinnamon                       
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) nutmeg or mace
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) cardamom
  • Optional: ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) white pepper
  • Optional: ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground anise seed

Method

  1. Cut the butter into cubes, and melt it in a saucepan over medium heat, while stirring. Remove from heat when it changes to a deeper colour. Allow to cool down.
  2. Add sugar and beat into butter
  3. Add egg and vanilla, and beat well.
  4. Sift in the flour, baking soda, and spices, and mix well.
  5. Mix in the sliced almonds by hand. Be gentle, so that you do not crush them too much.
  6. Let the dough cool down, preferably overnight in the fridge.
  7. Dust the speculaas moulds with rice flour, making sure that the corners are covered in rice flour. This will make it easier to remove the biscuits from the mould.
  8. Roll the dough, cut into rectangles that are roughly the size of the mould, and press into the mould.
  9. Use a sharp knife, held flat against the wood, to cut away the excess dough. Don’t cut yourself!
  10. Turn the mould upside down, and knock one end of it against your work surface. The biscuit will fall out – providing you used enough rice flour.
  11. Repeat the previous two steps for the rest of the speculaas biscuits.
  12. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. 
  13. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
  14. Let it cool down, and store in an airtight container.
Notes: 

Marietjie found this recipe on a Dutch recipe site, a long, long time ago. It works very well. Her friend Marieta, who is well-known for her delicious Speculaas, use a recipe that is very similar: she uses less butter (115 gram instead of 140 gram), and prefers to omit the almonds.  

If you want to, you can use your almonds to decorate the speculaas: instead of adding it to the dough mixture, place a couple of almond slices in the mould before pressing the dough into it.