But nothing smells as good as this time of year, when we start preparing for the upcoming holidays of Sinterklaas and Christmas. Enticing autumnal aromas waft from the kitchen as we bake taai taai, kruidnoten en gevulde speculaas. The fragrance bouquet of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger is one that belongs to this season, and neighbors will be wondering what you're up to, hoping for a taste of whatever it is you're baking!
Today's recipe, the humble speculaas cookie, is a great and welcome gift to those same neighbors, and will hold you over with a cup of coffee while you're waiting for the next tray to come out of the oven. It's also a good way to test your mix of speculaaskruiden, speculaas spices, and see if some spices need adjusting if you are going to do additional baking this season. Speculaaskruiden are used for speculaas, gevulde speculaas and even apple pie!
The dough will hold several days in the fridge, so there is no need to bake everything at once. Makes approximately 75 cookies. You can use cookie cutters or the more traditional speculaas molds, wooden boards that are cut out with traditional figures. If you do, dust your board well and make sure the dough is stil fairly cold so it doesn't stick to the board. Here's a video on how to accomplish this: http://www.cookerathome.nl/shoart.php?artikelid=126.
2 sticks butter
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup speculaas spices**
1/4 cup buttermilk
Cream the butter with the sugar and the salt. Sift the flour with the baking powder and the spices and knead it into the butter. Use the milk to make it to a rollable, but slightly stiff dough, it is not allowed to stick to your hands! Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, warm the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Divide the dough in four pieces. Re-wrap three and return them to the fridge.
Dust the counter with a little bit of flour and roll out the dough. Cut out shapes* (I used a windmill cookie cutter but you are welcome to use any kind you fancy) and place them on the parchment. When you're done, return the baking sheet briefly to the fridge for about ten minutes, then place in the oven and bake. The cookies are done after about twenty minutes.
Cool on a rack.
* If you don't have any cookie cutters you like, just cut cookies the size of a business card, about 2 x 3.5 inches. You can sprinkle some slivered almonds on top if you wish.
** ** For the spices: start with 2 heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mix in a 1/2 scant teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon scant ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon mace and 1/4 teaspoon white ground pepper and, if you have it, 1/4 teaspoon of dried orange peel. If you like the flavor of anise, add a 1/4 teaspoon of ground anise to give it a special twist. 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 are welcome to make it your very own, but make sure you write down the quantities and ingredients so you can replicate your personal recipe. Store in an airtight jar.