Speculaas is no longer a unique December treat. An industrialized baking process has made speculaas an every day kind of cookie in the Netherlands and it's available year round for all to enjoy, even here in the US. As for me, I still wait until the beginning of December before I start baking speculaas, somehow the "once-a-year"-ity of it makes it into such a special occassion.
This year, I opted for two varieties: cookies and "brokken". Speculaas can be eaten in many shapes and sizes, but my favorites are "brokken", chunks. I bake a slab of speculaas in the oven until it's ready, and when it's cooling down on the counter, I break it into large chunks. Not pretty and fufu-ey, but a lot easier and just as yummie!
Before I start, I make my own mixture of spices. Everybody has a preference for one or more spices in the mix, so feel free to adjust and experiment accordingly. As for me, I am not big on either nutmeg or cloves so barely put in the minimum.
2 cups of self-rising flour*
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of speculaas spices**
1 stick of butter, cold
3 tablespoons of milk
Optional: sliced almonds
Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl until well integrated. Divide the butter into small pieces and cut into the dry mixture until crumbly. Moisten the mix with a tablespoon of milk at a time, and knead the dough until the butter and the spices are well blended, about ten times. Pat the dough into a flat oval, wrap securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate preferably overnight, but at least for four hours. This will allow the spices to thoroughly release all their goodness into the dough.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If you are baking on a silicone mat or on parchment paper, place the dough on top, cover with the plastic wrap and roll into an oval shape, about 1/2 inch high. Pull back the plastic wrap, sprinkle the almonds on top (optional) and softly roll the almonds onto the dough, just enough to where they're stuck.
Move your silicone mat or parchment paper onto the baking sheet, place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes. Check regularly as you want to avoid burning the bottom. Remove when the edges are crisping up (the rest of the speculaas will still be soft) and rest on a cooling rack until lukewarm. Break the oval into chunks and allow them to cool and harden, about another hour. Great with a steaming cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.
* If you don't have self-rising flour, measure out two cups of all purpose flour and add two heaping teaspoons of baking powder and a large pinch of salt.
** For the spices: start with a heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mix in a 1/4 scant teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon scant ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon white ground pepper. Smell and decide if you like it. Too much clove? Add in a bit more cinnamon. Prefer more ginger? Feel free to add some more. You can also throw in a pinch of aniseed or cardamom to make it bolder. Store in an airtight jar.
If you don't feel comfortable mixing the speculaasmix yourself, try finding them on one of the many online stores that sell Dutch foods.