Christmas and Winter Holiday Cookies: Speculaas

Traditional speculaas

Speculaas! A Dutch treat beloved throughout much of northern Europe and eaten at the celebration of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) on December 5th, as well as throughout the Christmas holiday season!

The intoxicating aroma of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger baking in ovens throughout the world during the holidays conjures visions of sweetly tasty Christmas cookies and spicy cakes! And Speculaas (known as Speculoos to the French and Spekulatius to the Germans) is a particular favorite.

Quite often the fragrant, spicy cookies are shaped to look like windmills and are most well known as "Windmill Cookies"! Sadly, the packaged version now being sold in most markets is quite disappointing in comparison to those available many years ago. And in either case, there is no substitute for the taste and fragrance of the home baked version!

"Warm Fragrant Spices

Specerij is the Dutch word for the particular combination of warm, richly fragrant spices used to make Speculaas: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, mace, cardamon, and white pepper. However, I have found recipes for Speculaas using only three of these spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) and others that use them all. Some versions call for ginger, some do not. Almonds are often added - ground or simply sprinkled on top - but not always. But they all include that signature spice profile of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

When baked they can be cake like or similar to a cross between Springerle and shortbread - but of course a spicy version. Most often they are similar to a very crunchy Gingersnap but with a milder and much broader spice flavor profile - and if ginger is included you will notice only a hint. Some recipes will yield a very spicy cookie but most yield a relatively mild spice cookie.

And it is this mild spice profile that gives this particular spice cookie the potential to be "kid-friendly"! For many children, gingerbread can be overpowering; but two of the recipes I am sharing below are mild and delicious and a perfect way to introduce children to taste treats found in "old world" cookies.

Cookie Molds and Rolling pin for Speculaas, Springerle, and Shortbread

Although there are several possibilities offered, many believe that the Latin word for mirror (Speculum) describes the cookie quite well - thus the name Speculaas. Traditionally the cookie is pressed into a mold and then when released the surface is imprinted with a mirror image of the mold. To see a beautiful collection of cookie molds and stamps and how beautifully the "mirror images" turn out, visit this post on Mary and Patch. I don't visit this post too often because it gives me a terrible case of cookie mold envy!!

Before baking, Speculaas cookie dough is rolled out just as you would sugar cookie dough, and then imprinted with beautiful, fanciful carved wooden molds. Europeans have been carving intricate cookie molds for over 700 years and there is most likely not an animal, flower or design that has not found it's doppelgänger in a cookie mold! St. Nicholas himself is a very popular subject for cookie molds, especially for bakers making St. Nicholas Day treats.

Although cookie molds are certainly not required to bake Speculaas, they do make beautifully unique holiday cookies! Two of the recipes below call for molds but can be simply rolled and cut using a knife or cookie cutter. But to give your cookies that "old-world" cookie goodness, order a mold from one of the sources below or keep an eye out at garage sales and thrifts. I have actually found several rolling pin versions waiting in thrifts for someone to give them a home.

House on the Hill

Of course you can roll out the dough and cut with cookie cuttes.  Here is a link to traditional St. Nicholas Cookie Cutters.

Another possibility for shaping Speculaas is to roll the dough and use a cookie stamp to make pretty cookies. Again, cast-off cookie stamps are often found at garage sales and in thrifts but can also be ordered here.

OR you can make your own! Kathryn, the lovely woman behind the blog "the pickledherring" and originator of Scandinavian Christmas, shares a little "how-to" right here for making your very own unique cookie stamps using cornstarch clay! Kids would be all over this idea!!

Italian style Speculaas

Not every Specuklaas cookie is designed to be eaten right out of the oven! Many recipes that are designed to work well with cookie molds must be stored in an air-tight container for at least a couple weeks - I store mine a whole month.

Two recipes I am sharing are just fine to be eaten soon after baking although the flavor improves significantly after a few days in air-tight storage! But the two recipes calling for cookie molds must be stored. They will be hugely disappointing right out of the oven. I did not know about the importance of storage for developing flavor and texture all those many years ago when I first made Speculaas and I considered them to be a "failed" cookie. Now fortunately, I know better!

FOUR RECIPES FOR SPECULAAS TO TRY!

 

Traditional speculaas

Speculaas Cookies / Martha Stewart: recipe here

Notes:  What I love about this recipe - the dough is lovely to work with and when baked each cookie retains the shape of the mold imprint beautifully; and for my taste, the blend of spices is just about perfect!  In fact I will most likely consider trying the blend of spices in the other versiions below.

What I do not love - the cookies are very time consuming to bake as each tray of molded dough must spend at least an hour in the freezer before baking; and although delicious, they became quite hard shortly after cooling.  

Definitely need to store this cookie for at least a couple weeks before serving.  And consider them a tasty dunking cookie - serve with tea or coffee.

Would I make them again?  Absolutely!  Except for the "freezer bit" they are really fun to make and once stored and softened a bit, they really are delicious.

P1130159

Spiced Star Cookies - Speculaas from King Arthur Flour website here. (Also available in "King Arthur Cookie Companion" as simply Speculaas)

Notes: What I love about this cookie - for one thing the dough is lovely to work with.  This is an important factor when working with molds or cookie cutters!!! And this recipe works well either way!!  I am sure it would also work well with cookie stamps.

It was my sweetie's favorite of the four listed here - he  particularly enjoyed the balance of spices and almond.  

What I do not love is that although the dough is dreamy to work with, it does not hold the shape of the cookie mold as well as Martha's recipe - the pretty little designs "slump" a little.  But they hold the image better than many others I have tried.  I am eager to try them with Kathryn's cookie stamps!

When these are first baked, they tend to be nicely crisp but after cooling for a bit, they also get quite hard.  Store these a few weeks before serving to soften them a bit.  Also a dunking cookie!!

Would I bake these again?  Yes I would!!!  My sweetie is already waiting!!!

 

Italian Style Speculaas

Spekulatius - Spiced Christmas Cookie part of the EtsyItalia Team 2012 Advent Calendar. Recipe shared by Fran of EF Accessories shop: recipe is here

Notes: Of the four recipes I am sharing here, these are my favorites! And I think they are definitely kid friendly - especially if you use the spice blend I used (below)!

What do I love?  Well first off they are delicious! The cookie is soft and cake-like instead of hard and crisp. They do store well but only recommended because the flavor gets even better during storage - a few days. The cookie does not get hard.

The spice blend can be adjusted to your taste! I use 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp cardamon and - because the recipe was shared on EtsyItalia - I add 1/2 tsp ground anise!! Delicious!

The dough is a dream to roll and cut into shapes. And when baked, the cookies are a little puffed and oh so pretty! (Not for stamps or molds!)

What I do not love?  There is nothing I don't love about this cookie!!!  However, when I bake these again, I am thinking of trying out Martha's spice combination (with anise of course) and sprinkling the tops with turbanado or demerara sugar before baking.

I sprinkle demerara sugar or turbinado sugar  on top of many of the spicy cookies I bake! Adds a lovely little sweet crunch!

The mixing proceedure in the recipe does not work for me, so I simply mix the ingredients in the usual manner - creaming sugar and butter, adding egg, mixing dry ingredients together and adding to the butter/sugar mixture.  I have not yet needed milk - but you may.

Would I bake these again?  Every year!!!

Cutting Speculaas

St. Nikolaus Speculatius (Kris Kringle) Cookies from the cookie recipe collection at the St. Nicholas Center. Recipe provided by Maria Trapp. Find it here - scroll to the third recipe on the page.

Notes:  What do I love about this cookie?  They are thin, crispy, fragrant and delicious!!  My second favorite for being kid friendly. And my sweetie enjoys them as much as I do.

What I do not like?  Only that the dough is quite delicate and must be handled with a light hand. So if you have never rolled a cookie in your life - this not the recipe to try first!!! And I don't recommend using the "vintage" cookie cutters as you can see I did last year.  Not for this recipe.  Use the open cookie cutters. This is not a good candidate for cookie molds or stamps.

But the baked cookie more than compensates you for your trouble!  Not one to bake "with" kids, but "for" kids - and for yourself!!

Would I bake these again?  Yes!  But not as often as the "Speculatius" above.  But that is not a reflection on the goodness of this cookie.  Just happen to like the other one best!

********************************************

There are so many more Speculaas recipes to try!!! I have several bookmarked and perhaps when I do bake them, they may make an appearance here! I am simply offering these because I have had a good experience both making and eating - and I am hoping you will too!

If you happen to have a Speculaas recipe that you find is delicious and works well with molds or as a cut-out cookie, please consider leaving a link in comments!

And remember - to find links to all the cookies included in "Christmas and Winter Holiday Cookies from Around the World", go to the introductory post right here!

Yes, I've got a few of those

Yes, I've got a few of those cookie molds; yay for garage sales! You are definitely getting me inspired to use them this year. I usually make lots and lots of krumkake, but it's time to branch out :-).

Thanks for such a comprehensive and inspiring post! All your posts are just such a joy to read!

Hi Pam, did you know we dutch

Hi Pam, did you know we dutch are too addicted of them, that there are versions to use not only for cookies but to eat them on your slice of breads.
I used to eat those spuculaas pieces (called Schuddebuikjes) for the lids for my orange curtain doorwidow.
And i'm glad that we can buy the speculaas not only during the winter but the whole year as well. I hated that as a child that some products where only available during some periode, not that not the problem anymore. Huraay!!!
We are famous of our sweet bread covers, there is too many to choossen off.
And still i view more versions then there was when i was little.
But speculaas i still my fave, only the gluttenfree ones aren't too tasty.
so i'm still searching for a good recipy.
And yeaah i have those old models of cutted out woods as well.
For one special art project, My bridail 3d quilted cakes lightshades , i had to made those fake speculaasjes of fimo.LOL
And as well lolly, it was fun to watch only in shops how they looked to tried to made at home the fake ones. Most shops were they know me too well, didn't understand my only taking a good glimps without bying them. They always came by to offering their help. Which i loved, but i'm not allowed to eat candy or glutten and suger anymore, it's not diabetic but just a allergic food problem.LOL
And every city has his own specialist candy or cookie, i haven't found out what the special one is for Haarlem.
When i have found out i will share it.
many dutch hugs of me, and thank you for the sharing of this recipy

I am getting hungry looking

I am getting hungry looking at these, thanks for doing the work & info on the recipes! I am saving the Martha Stewart recipe for future use - I have molds that I've used for paper molding in the past & at least one set that I've never used for crafts that I'm going to try to make cookies with. I think they're Halloween themed, so hope to remember to try this in the fall!

I'm adding a gorgeous cookie

I'm adding a gorgeous cookie mold to my Christmas wish list from my sweetie this year! As Christmastime is my favorite time of year, we keep adding different Christmas traditions from around the world to our celebration. I look forward to trying Speculaas next year, thanks to your suggestion. And as always, Pam, your truly beautiful photos always make my heart warm and bring a smile to my face! Thanks so much for sharing with us!
Big hugs!

Pam, How did you know I was

Pam, How did you know I was looking for a good Speculaas recipe? Even though it's summer I plan on making one of these recipes this weekend. Thank you.

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