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Speculaas Biscuits

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Introduction

You’re unlikely to get very far in Amsterdam without coming across these festively spiced and beautiful biscuits, and nor would you want to. They are the perfect Christmas cookie. Traditionally — and it’s how bakeries still sell them, though they’re made less and less at home — they’re made by pressing the dough onto carved wooden moulds, which give the biscuits the look of edible Christmas cameos, but you don’t have to ‘print’ them (as it’s called) but can cheerily roll out the dough and turn them into biscuits with a cookie cutter. This, indeed, is what I do. Some time ago, I got my hands on some cookie cutters in the shape of those narrow 17th century houses that line the canals of Amsterdam, and this was too good an opportunity to miss. (It might interest you to know that the narrowness of the houses wasn’t a purely decorative architectural feature, but due to the fact that the wider the frontage, the more tax was levied on it.) I also have a special tulip cutter in my collection, and I cut out some Speculaas with these, too. But any Christmassy shape will look charming, and hearts always look lovely.

Strictly speaking, these shouldn’t be iced, but if I don’t try and do some sort of basic window shapes with a tube of squeezy white icing on the biscuits made with my Amsterdam-house cutters, they do rather look like gingerbread tombstones. So I ice — if sketchily — the biscuits shaped like Amsterdam houses (using instant royal icing powder, though you can find a recipe for royal icing here and leave the tulip ones bare and beautiful, not least because these Speculaas just so happen to make cheese biscuits of utter, unparalleled gorgeousness.

Image of Nigella's Tulips
Photo by Nigella

There is a particular Speculaas Spice you need to mix up before you can make the biscuits, but any left over won’t go to waste: I happily add a little whenever I want to give some extra festive oomph to my Christmas cooking, whether it be to cakes, cookies, red cabbage, stews; or gravy — and much else besides.

Finally, it’s best to make the dough a day in advance, to let the warm flavour of the spices develop and deepen.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

You’re unlikely to get very far in Amsterdam without coming across these festively spiced and beautiful biscuits, and nor would you want to. They are the perfect Christmas cookie. Traditionally — and it’s how bakeries still sell them, though they’re made less and less at home — they’re made by pressing the dough onto carved wooden moulds, which give the biscuits the look of edible Christmas cameos, but you don’t have to ‘print’ them (as it’s called) but can cheerily roll out the dough and turn them into biscuits with a cookie cutter. This, indeed, is what I do. Some time ago, I got my hands on some cookie cutters in the shape of those narrow 17th century houses that line the canals of Amsterdam, and this was too good an opportunity to miss. (It might interest you to know that the narrowness of the houses wasn’t a purely decorative architectural feature, but due to the fact that the wider the frontage, the more tax was levied on it.) I also have a special tulip cutter in my collection, and I cut out some Speculaas with these, too. But any Christmassy shape will look charming, and hearts always look lovely.

Strictly speaking, these shouldn’t be iced, but if I don’t try and do some sort of basic window shapes with a tube of squeezy white icing on the biscuits made with my Amsterdam-house cutters, they do rather look like gingerbread tombstones. So I ice — if sketchily — the biscuits shaped like Amsterdam houses (using instant royal icing powder, though you can find a recipe for royal icing here and leave the tulip ones bare and beautiful, not least because these Speculaas just so happen to make cheese biscuits of utter, unparalleled gorgeousness.

Image of Nigella's Tulips
Photo by Nigella

There is a particular Speculaas Spice you need to mix up before you can make the biscuits, but any left over won’t go to waste: I happily add a little whenever I want to give some extra festive oomph to my Christmas cooking, whether it be to cakes, cookies, red cabbage, stews; or gravy — and much else besides.

Finally, it’s best to make the dough a day in advance, to let the warm flavour of the spices develop and deepen.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Ingredients

Makes: approx. 36 biscuits

Metric Cups

For the Speculaas Spice

  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

FOR THE BISCUITS

  • 300 grams plain flour (plus more for rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon Speculaas spice (see above)
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 100 grams unsalted butter (soft)
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar
  • 100 grams black treacle (plus a very little oil for greasing a jug for weighing the treacle in)
  • 1 large egg (at room temperature)

FOR THE ICING (OPTIONAL)

  • 225 grams instant royal icing powder (see Additional Info below if you are unable to find this)
  • 2½ - 3 teaspoons cold water

For the Speculaas Spice

  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

FOR THE BISCUITS

  • 2⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon Speculaas spice (see above)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter (soft)
  • ½ cup soft light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup black molasses (plus a very little oil for greasing a jug for weighing the treacle in)
  • 1 large egg (at room temperature)

FOR THE ICING (OPTIONAL)

  • 225 grams instant royal icing powder (see Additional Info below if you are unable to find this)
  • 2½ - 3 teaspoons cold water

Method

  1. First of all, combine the 300g/2⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon flour, 1 x 15ml tablespoon Speculaas Spice, ½ teaspoon bicarb and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl and fork to mix, so it’s all ready when you need it.
  2. Put the soft butter and light brown sugar into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the flat paddle, and beat until completely combined, light and fluffy, before gradually adding and beating in the black treacle; if you lightly oil the jug (or bowl) you’re weighing out the treacle in, it will prevent it sticking, by the way. If you plan to spoon it in, then grease the spoon, too. While the black treacle doesn’t feature in traditional Dutch Speculaas, it’s an anglo-addition that I’m happy to make.
  3. Once the treacle has been fully incorporated, add a tablespoonful of spiced flour, then the egg and mix again until smooth, then, still beating, gradually add the rest of spiced flour, spoonful by spoonful, until a dough starts to form. You may need to tip it out onto the work surface and squeeze it together with your hands to make the dough come together completely. It’s a strange-textured dough: it feels soft and sticky, and yet it won’t actually stick to your hands as you mould it.
  4. Shape the dough into two fat patties then cover both tightly with food wrap and leave to rest overnight in the fridge so that the spice can develop.
  5. The next day, when you are ready to cook the Speculaas, take one of the dough discs out of the fridge, and let it sit out for 20-40 minutes (depending on how cold your fridge is and how warm your kitchen is) and when the dough feels pliable enough to roll out, heat the oven to 180ºC/160º Fan/350ºF, and get out a completely flat baking sheet and line it with baking parchment.
  6. Lightly flour a surface for rolling out your dough, and then duly roll it out fairly thin, about 3mm/⅛ inch, though you don’t need to measure it exactly. Dip the cookie cutter of your choice into some flour, give it a bit of a wiggle over the jar or packet to get rid of excess, and then cut out the shapes you want. If you want to hang these biscuits from the tree, make a hole now, so that you can thread string or ribbon through it later.
  7. With a flat spatula, gently transfer your biscuits to the lined baking sheet, about 2–2.5 centimetres/1 inch apart; they don’t really spread as they bake so you don’t have to worry about arranging them miles apart from one another. Squodge any offcuts of the dough together to roll out and bake once all your cut-out ones are done, and cover and pop in the fridge for now, and take out your second disc of dough.
  8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. They’ll still feel rather soft on top when they’re cooked, but you’ll see that they’ve puffed up a little, and the edges will have darkened slightly. You will get the odd fine crack, but don’t worry about it. When the biscuits are completely cooled, any softness will have disappeared, and you’ll have biscuits with a crisp bite. As soon as the baking sheet has cooled, you can repeat with your second patty, adding the off-cuts of this to the others.
  9. Transfer the cookies with a flat spatula to a wire rack to cool completely. Then repeat with the remaining dough.
  10. Should you wish to ice the biscuits, whisk the instant royal icing powder with 2½-3 teaspoons of cold water, until you have a thick icing that will hold its shape, and yet still be fluid enough to be piped; I use a No 2 or writing icing nozzle for this.
  1. First of all, combine the 300g/2⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon flour, 1 x 15ml tablespoon Speculaas Spice, ½ teaspoon bicarb and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl and fork to mix, so it’s all ready when you need it.
  2. Put the soft butter and light brown sugar into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the flat paddle, and beat until completely combined, light and fluffy, before gradually adding and beating in the black molasses; if you lightly oil the jug (or bowl) you’re weighing out the treacle in, it will prevent it sticking, by the way. If you plan to spoon it in, then grease the spoon, too. While the black molasses doesn’t feature in traditional Dutch Speculaas, it’s an anglo-addition that I’m happy to make.
  3. Once the treacle has been fully incorporated, add a tablespoonful of spiced flour, then the egg and mix again until smooth, then, still beating, gradually add the rest of spiced flour, spoonful by spoonful, until a dough starts to form. You may need to tip it out onto the work surface and squeeze it together with your hands to make the dough come together completely. It’s a strange-textured dough: it feels soft and sticky, and yet it won’t actually stick to your hands as you mould it.
  4. Shape the dough into two fat patties then cover both tightly with food wrap and leave to rest overnight in the fridge so that the spice can develop.
  5. The next day, when you are ready to cook the Speculaas, take one of the dough discs out of the fridge, and let it sit out for 20-40 minutes (depending on how cold your fridge is and how warm your kitchen is) and when the dough feels pliable enough to roll out, heat the oven to 180ºC/160º Fan/350ºF, and get out a completely flat baking sheet and line it with baking parchment.
  6. Lightly flour a surface for rolling out your dough, and then duly roll it out fairly thin, about 3mm/⅛ inch, though you don’t need to measure it exactly. Dip the cookie cutter of your choice into some flour, give it a bit of a wiggle over the jar or packet to get rid of excess, and then cut out the shapes you want. If you want to hang these biscuits from the tree, make a hole now, so that you can thread string or ribbon through it later.
  7. With a flat spatula, gently transfer your biscuits to the lined baking sheet, about 2–2.5 centimetres/1 inch apart; they don’t really spread as they bake so you don’t have to worry about arranging them miles apart from one another. Squodge any offcuts of the dough together to roll out and bake once all your cut-out ones are done, and cover and pop in the fridge for now, and take out your second disc of dough.
  8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. They’ll still feel rather soft on top when they’re cooked, but you’ll see that they’ve puffed up a little, and the edges will have darkened slightly. You will get the odd fine crack, but don’t worry about it. When the biscuits are completely cooled, any softness will have disappeared, and you’ll have biscuits with a crisp bite. As soon as the baking sheet has cooled, you can repeat with your second patty, adding the off-cuts of this to the others.
  9. Transfer the cookies with a flat spatula to a wire rack to cool completely. Then repeat with the remaining dough.
  10. Should you wish to ice the biscuits, whisk the instant royal icing powder with 2½-3 teaspoons of cold water, until you have a thick icing that will hold its shape, and yet still be fluid enough to be piped; I use a No 2 or writing icing nozzle for this.

Additional Information

If you can't find instant royal icing powder, you can use 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (spooned and levelled) plus 1 tablespoon meringue powder with enough warm water to make a thick icing (1-2 tablespoons).

MAKE AHEAD:
The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

FREEZE:
The dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap the dough in a double layer of food wrap and a layer of foil (or put in a tightly sealed freezer bag) and freeze. Defrost overnight in the fridge. You could also freeze the baked but un-iced cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Stack the cookies with parchment in between each layer. Defrost on a wire rack for 1-2 hours at room temperature.

STORE:
The baked cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week (they soften a little bit after a few days, especially if iced).

If you can't find instant royal icing powder, you can use 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (spooned and levelled) plus 1 tablespoon meringue powder with enough warm water to make a thick icing (1-2 tablespoons).

MAKE AHEAD:
The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

FREEZE:
The dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap the dough in a double layer of food wrap and a layer of foil (or put in a tightly sealed freezer bag) and freeze. Defrost overnight in the fridge. You could also freeze the baked but un-iced cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Stack the cookies with parchment in between each layer. Defrost on a wire rack for 1-2 hours at room temperature.

STORE:
The baked cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week (they soften a little bit after a few days, especially if iced).

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What 1 Other has said

  • This recipe is another one of Nigella’s which is so easy to make gluten free too, if you use gluten free plain flour and add a level teaspoon of xantham gum. Rolls out perfectly, as thin as you like!

    Posted by AgedCrone on 25th December 2023
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