Yes! I admit it, I am late, I apologise. The good news is even though these cookies are traditionally eaten in Holland and Belgium last night, they are also enjoyed the whole Yule season.
St Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves and pawnbrokers, just to name a few. But on December 6, he is the patron saint of children as he travels to each child putting small coins in shoes or lumps of coal. Sound familiar?
Spekulatius (German), Speculoos (French), Dutch windmill cookies, Belgian Spice Cookie and Biscoff cookies are simply other names for Speculaas, a Dutch and Belgian spicy shortbread style cookie, baked in honour of St. Nicholas’s feast day.
These days you can find Windmill cookies year round. This recipe makes a very crisp cookie and can be substituted for graham wafer or gingersnap crumbs once crushed.
Speculaaskruiden! Just like the recipe for making pumpkin pie spice posted in October, it is easy to find variations. This is a good place to start but other possible additions include anise, mace and coriander. As this cookie has been around for at least 500 years, it is easy to understand that the spice mix would get tweaked as Dutch merchants explored the world and brought new delicacies back home.
Defining 1/2 teaspoon as the “part” will give you almost enough for twice the recipe below. Round the measuring spoon a little and you should be good.
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cups Demerara sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. Speculaas spice
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
Wash hands in warm water and let any niggles fall away with the drops. Bring your focus into the present moment and invite in a more intimate connection to spirit as you work your own magic. Rolled cookies are a hands on example “work is love in action”. Take a deep breath and begin.
Beat the softened butter with the sugars and spices, add the eggs and mix well. Sift the flour and baking soda into the butter mixture and stir until fully incorporated. This is a standard cookie dough recipe, simple steps and no pitfalls.
Divide the dough in half and press into two patties. Wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to cool.
Unwrap and roll out the dough evenly. I have a balsam stick that I cut in half to allow me to ensure that the cookies are all the same depth and will therefore bake evenly. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and over the rolling pin and roll out the dough.
There are at least two theories about where the name Speculaas came from.
One is that the Latin translation is “mirror” and since Speculaas is traditionally formed by a handcarved cookie mold into the shape of Saint Nicholas/Sinterklaas when celebrating today, that cookie would be a mirror image when tipped out and turned over. There are more and each one just adds to the understanding that we really don’t know everything.
Now I am not suggesting running out and buying molds as another option is to cut out with any neutral cookie cutter shape you might have handy or a glass and then press a few almond flakes on to the top of the cookie before baking.
Some traditional recipes include almonds in the recipe so this is right in line with customs, minus the windmill or other cookie molds.
Simple spicy cookies with a bit of a nip. There is afterall half a teaspoon of white pepper in the mix.
I wanted to also share with you a German Yuletime custom which is the embroidering of Advent tablecloths. Christmas trees generally do not go up until the third week of December, so women created decorations with needlepoint and at this time of the year it was very often a wreath of greenery and four candles. They come out the last Sunday in November and all the tablecloths are changed to more festive ones. I always feel like I am walking into little circles of sacred space with the four directions called and welcomed and that I have a secret because it looks like Christmas and I see something else.
These are the same recipe but I have been experimenting with lasered cut outs, in this case the triple spiral and the wheel of the year. I wanted an impression just like a traditional Speculaas but with meanig sourced from other symbols.I made some with the center piece that had been cut out and others with the block that the image had been cut from and I personally prefer the ones below.
When cutting the cookies and adding flaked nuts, the dough can be thinner ( just over an 1/8 of an inch) with a shorter baking time ( about 12 minutes ). I made the pressed cookies about 25% thicker to accomodate the image and they need to bake 3 – 5 minutes longer. As always check the first batch. Every oven has its own personality.
The cookies grew about half an inch as they baked so next time I might start with a smaller cookie cutter. I also broke the wheel mold as I dried it. Not sure yet whether that was a fluke or an issue. Either way I was happy with my modified approach to pressed Speculaas. If I had only got it together a day earlier, they would have been ready if St. Nicholas had stopped by for a visit.