These spice-laden, Christmas-infused Speculaas cookies were traditionally made in the Netherlands for St Nicholas’ Eve, which falls on December 5th of each year (Sinterklaasvond).
They are made with a blend of spices (speculaaskruiden) and were first created during the 17th century by Dutch bakers. Bakers commonly used a base of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in the biscuits, then added their own secret blend of spices to create a unique spicy flavour.
Speculaas were a great luxury back then, as the Dutch had taken control of the infamous spice trade only in the early 1600s. Very few could afford them, and so the biscuits were made just once a year and given as a present during Sinterklassvond.
It’s quite hard to imagine how special these biscuits once were. That once a year held the promise of a taste that could bring such wonder and joy to people whose palate had rarely experienced such stimulation. Now, they have become part of the everyday, but around this time of year they still hold a kind of reverence that makes them a delightful taste of the season.
I have experimented a little by mixing a traditional speculaas blend* with an Australian lemon pepper blend*, both I found at a Melbourne spice emporium called Gewurzhaus. If you don’t have access to this Australian blend or want to stay traditional, omit it and increase the speculaas blend to 2 tsp. Using both created a lovely peppery aftertaste and a slight tang when first tasted.
- 1½ cups unbleached white spelt flour
- 45 g almond meal
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp speculaas spice blend *
- 1 tsp native lemon pepper blend (optional)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 120g butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- grated rind of 1 lemon (if you don’t add the Australian pepper blend)
- shaved almonds to garnish (optional)
Mix the flour, almond meal, baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric beater until creamy. Add the egg and beat until combined, then beat in the flour mix, a third at a time, until it’s roughly incorporated. Use your hands to knead the dough into a ball. Flatten slightly then put in the fridge for an hour or more to harden.
When you’re ready to bake the biscuits, heat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Remove the dough and place between two sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin (or wine bottle), roll out the dough to around 3mm thick. Using a biscuit cutter, cut out the shapes you want and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Due to the butter content, the dough will get soft quickly so you will more than likely need to put the dough back in the fridge or freezer for 5 or 10 minutes to harden slightly to re-roll until it is all used.
Traditionally, a ‘stamp’ or rolling pin that indents the dough with a pattern is used. If you want to stamp out the biscuits in the traditional way, you will need to do a little research and find a specialty kitchen store or supplier of Dutch products.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges, remove from oven and cool on a wire wrack. This recipe should make around 3 dozen, depending on the size of the shapes you make.
* The speculaas blend I used contained cassia, coriander, cinnamon, clove, ginger, allspice, cardamom and nutmeg. If you can’t find it or don’t want to make it, use 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp ground ginger and ¼ tsp clove.
The native lemon pepper blend contained lemon myrtle, Australian black pepper, native pepperleaf, saltbush, native thyme and aniseed myrtle.