Speculaas Cookies

My family is Dutch on my fathers’ side, so growing up I always had access to strange and delightful treats like poffertjes (dollar pancakes), stroopwafels (waffle cut wafers with syrup sandwiched in between), hopjes (coffee candies), and speculaas (a spicy cookie somewhat reminiscent of a ginger snap). I didn’t like speculaas quite as much when I was younger, because some of the spices seemed strong at the time – I was a picky kid! – but I’ve really enjoyed them recently. Unfortunately, some of these cookies seems to have almonds in them, or they have a nut warning, so they aren’t always readily available.

I remember making speculaas once in high school. It was for a presentation in French class, where we were asked to present on a particular tradition from another country, and I chose to talk about Sinterklaas. I decided to go for a little baked goods bribery and brought in speculaas for the class (and more importantly, for the teacher). The recipe that I tried at the time was very difficult to work with, and my mother and I immediately vowed to never again make speculaas.

Last year, I decided to give it another go, and I found a recipe that works  really well. I love the spice blend – the ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, and white pepper make for an amazing combination (note that there is also nutmeg in this recipe, but nutmeg isn’t a spice I use often so I didn’t have any on hand and had to leave it out).

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This year, when Sinterklaas rolled around once again, I knew I had to make more speculaas. I wanted to try something interesting this year, so I made an attempt at rubber stamping my cookies. This was done using a regular rubber stamp that I bought at Michaels. Because this stamp wasn’t expressly intended for food, I made sure to wash it thoroughly before using it on my cookies.

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After rolling out my dough, I used a square cookie cutter that was slightly larger than my stamp. I found this worked best if I stamped the cookies before removing the cookie cutter, as this helps prevent the cookie from being deformed as the stamp is pressed down. Raw, the rose design was very clear on the cookies:

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After baking, the outline stayed very clear, but some of the detailing was lost as the cookies baked.

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I also tried a stamping technique with food colouring. Instead of pressing the stamp into the dough, I covered the stamp with red food colouring and lightly pressed it into the raw cookie dough just enough to transfer the colour. The food colouring darkened a little as it baked, but it kept the detail better than in the pressed cookies. I was also able to stamp these after removing the cookie cutter, so I could try some different shapes for these cookies.

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I think these are going to become a staple of my winter and Christmas baking. It’s not a treat I get often, but they have all of the spices that remind me of Christmas, with a little kick to finish (the pepper tends to hit you a few seconds after taking a bite). I definitely recommend giving these a try – unlike my very first attempt, these really aren’t difficult to make, but they are so delicious. They are great on their own, but they still pair well with a royal icing if you want to get fancy with your decorations.

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