Showing posts with label Speculaasbrokken (Dutch Spice Cookie Chunks). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Speculaasbrokken (Dutch Spice Cookie Chunks). Show all posts

It's Time for Speculaas!

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger are the main ingredients for a special Dutch treat called "speculaas", with a dash of white pepper thrown in for good measure. The word seemingly originated from the Latin word "speculum", mirror, in reference to the way the goods were prepared: the dough was pressed into a wooden decorated form, turned over and knocked out onto the baking sheet. The cookie now carried a "mirrored" image. In the old days by the end of November, bakers all over the country would initiate a subtle but effective sales strategy by throwing a handful of their speculaas spices in the bread oven's fire. The smoke would carry the wonderful smells into the streets, announcing the beginning of the speculaas baking season. Once you start baking this dough in your own kitchen, you'll know why: it makes the house smell wonderful!

Speculaas is no longer a unique December treat. An industrialized baking process has made speculaas an everyday 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 occasion.

This year, I opted for two varieties: Gevulde Speculaas (filled with almond paste) and "brokken". Speculaas can be cut out in many shapes, but my favorites are "brokken", chunks. I bake a 1/2 inch high slab of speculaas in the oven until it's ready, and when it's cooled down on the counter, I break it into large chunks. Not pretty and fancy, but a lot easier and just as flavorful! 

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.

Speculaas Brokken
2 cups (300 grams) self-rising flour*
2/3 cup (125 grams) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons speculaas spices**
1 stick (125 grams) butter, cold 
5 tablespoons (75 ml) milk, cold
1 egg, beaten

Optional: sliced almonds

Mix the flour, sugar, and spices in a bowl until well integrated. Divide the butter into small pieces and rub into the dry mixture until crumbly, like wet sand. Moisten the mix with a tablespoon of milk at a time, and knead the dough until the butter and the spices are well blended. This will take a bit of kneading as the warmth of your hands will make the butter melt, and together with the milk, form a cohesive dough. 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/175C. 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 (or 3 mm if you are baking cookies). Pull back the plastic wrap, brush the dough with the beaten egg and 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 20-25 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 1 heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mix in a 1/4 scant teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon scant ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, 1/8 teaspoon mace and 1/8 teaspoon white ground pepper and, if you have it, 1/8 teaspoon of dried orange peel. If you like the flavor of anise, add a 1/8th 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.

If you don't feel comfortable mixing the speculaasmix yourself, try finding them on one of the many online stores that sell Dutch foods.