Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger all feature heavily in festive Christmas recipes deeply rooted in western European tradition. One such spiced treat is speculaas: a thin, crisp biscuit/cookie made from a brown-sugar-based dough enriched with butter and milk. They're traditionally baked on St Nicholas' Eve (5 or 6 December) and stamped with an image from the story of St Nicholas.
The Dutch and German biscuits – in contrast to the Belgian – are heavily spiced, with cardamom and ground white pepper added to the mix. We've added a hint of star anise and mace to our interpretation of this Christmas classic.
The key to making good, crisp speculaas is to allow a lengthy resting time before rolling or moulding the dough. This allows the spices to mellow and really permeate all the way through the dough. Overnight is best, although you can make the dough up to three days ahead of baking. When you do finally get to the baking stage, the aroma is hardly to be believed – absolute heaven. It will make your kitchen smell like the inside of a gingerbread house.
Traditionally, speculaas are imprinted with images from a special wooden mould, but these can prove tricky to come by in Australia (although some specialty suppliers we found online will ship to our shores). So for these Christmas cookies, we've gone for another very European yuletide motif – the snowflake.
Our tip is to roll the cookie dough out thinly and refrigerate it until firm before cutting it out, to ensure well-defined edges for your speculaas. Our other tip? Bake plenty of them. Our recipe makes a generous quantity as they're incredibly moreish. We wager you'll find it hard to keep your hand out of the biscuit tin.
- 500 gm (3⅓ cups) plain flour, sieved
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 220 gm butter, softened
- 250 gm dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- 8 green cardamom pods
- 8 cloves
- 5 star anise
- 1 tsp white peppercorns
- 1 piece of mace
- 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp finely grated nutmeg
- 1For speculaas spice, finely grind cardamom, cloves, star anise, peppercorns and mace in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Transfer to a large bowl, add cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, stir, add to flour and baking powder, and set aside.
- 2Beat butter, sugar and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until creamy (3-4 minutes). Add milk, beat to combine, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Form mixture into a dough with your hands on a work surface (add extra milk if mixture is too dry), shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate to rest (8 hours-overnight).
- 3Preheat oven to 170C. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick, then refrigerate until firm (30 minutes). Cut into desired shapes (see note) and place on trays lined with baking paper. Re-roll scraps and repeat. Chill until firm (20 minutes), then bake in batches until light brown and crisp (10-12 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes on trays, then transfer to wire racks and cool completely. Speculaas will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 1 week.
You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead. This recipe makes about 40 cookies. We've used snowflake cutters available from Alfresco Emporium. You can substitute any shape of your choice.