Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger all feature heavily in festive recipes deeply rooted in western European tradition. One such spiced treat is speculaas: a thin, crisp biscuit 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 versions – 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). Instead, we’ve gone for another very European Christmas motif – the snowflake. Our tip is to roll the 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 of speculaas as they’re incredibly moreish. We wager you’ll find it hard to keep your hand out of the biscuit tin.
These are some grown-up treats that Santa won’t mind chasing with a glass of ice-cold milk – and neither will you.