Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Speculoos for you

I first came across these spice cookies one November during a visit in Lille, France, near the border with Belgium. During the day my host would go to work, leaving me to explore (ie. sip un cafe, watch passersby and then troll every food establishment or market in town, practically drooling over all the goodies I couldn't get back home).

I would make at least a daily trip (often twice daily) to one of the boulangerie/patisseries — after all, I had to keep up my strength so as not to wither in the chill weather of this small northern city.

Normally I favor treats typically associated with France — croissant au beurre, tarte Tatin, etc. But even though speculoos are just humble spice cookies, somehow the bakeries over there elevated them into something delicately buttery and wonderful. I don’t think I’ll buy a supermarket gingersnap again.

It's been years since I've seen or made these. I had all but forgotton these cookies, which I think are traditionally made for the holiday season, until I took a look this week at a potential job translating a few recipes from French to English. One of the recipes called a crumble topping made of crushed speculoos.

The problem is they're not so accessible to us here in the states. I guess you could substitute store-bought gingersnaps (meh) or some Swedish pepparkakor from Ikea (I've heard they weren't bad).

But why not make a batch of speculoos and have the extra on hand for that certain time in the afternoon when the stomach starts to feel hollow but dinner is still so far away ...

This recipe is a combination of one from www.labonnecuisine.be and another from a friend’s mother in Maubeuge, also northern France. I've included the French version as well as my English translation.

(biscuits des Flandres)


150 g de beurre
300 g de cassonade brune
1 oeuf
1 cuillerée  à café de mélange d'épices (cannelle et girofle moulu).
1 cuilleree (ou au pif) a cafe de zeste de citron*
sel (environs demi cuilleree a cafe)
500 g de farine**


   1. Mélangez le beurre, la cassonade brune, l'oeuf, les épices, le sel et le zeste de citron, si on le veut, dans un saladier.  Incorporez progressivement la farine. Laissez reposer la pâte au moins une heure au refrigirateur.

2. Faites plusieurs morceaux de la pâte.

3. Prechauffer le four a 175° C, et saupoudrez un moule*** de farine.

4. Remplissez-le de pâte et éliminez ce qui dépasse (avec un couteau).

5. D'un geste sec, retournez le moule sur une plaque de cuisson couvert de papier sulfurisé.  Recommencez l'opération  avec les autres morceaux de pâte.

6. Enfournez la plaque au four.

7. Laissez cuire environ 10-13 minutes.

Pour 24 a 48 biscuits, environ


(Flemish spice cookies, similar to Swedish pepparkakor)
copyright Cynthia Ohms ©   


300 g (1 ½ c) brown sugar
150 g (10.5 Tbs -- or 1 stick plus 2.5 Tbs) butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of holiday spices, (usually ground cinnamon and a pinch of ground clove, often also ginger)
1 teaspoon lemon zest*
½ tsp salt
500 g (about 4 cups) flour**

1. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, butter, egg, spices and salt until combined. Gradually mix in the flour (eg. In three to four batches) until combined. The mixture will form a thick dough. Place dough in refrigerator to rest at least one hour.

2. Divide dough into several pieces, according to the size of the mold(s)*** to be used.

3. Preheat oven to 175 C / 350 F, and dust speculoos mold(s) with flour.
Press dough into the mold, and cut off excess with a small knife.
With a sharp snap, flip the mold onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and carefully lift from cookie. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

4. Place sheet of cookies into preheated oven and bake about 10-13 minutes, adjusting time based on the oven.
Remove when edges begin to darken.

Makes about 24 to 48 cookies depending on size of mold or cookie cutters

Baker’s notes:

*Besides adjusting the spices to personal taste (I don't like too much clove), I sometimes like to add lemon zest, even if it isn't traditional.

**Even in residential / home kitchens, a scale is invaluable for accurate and consistent baking results, especially when quantities of dry ingredients exceed 2 cups. When measuring flour, for instance, depending on the texture of the batch of flour, the amount of air in the product and the ambient humidity, the true amount measured at different times can vary considerably, even for a single cook using the same cup measures. I like to use an Oxo scale, and there also are many other affordable options available through retailers carrying home goods.

***Speculoos are a regional specialty (Belgium and northern France), so the molds are not easily found in the U.S.
No mold? Just divide the dough into two halves, rolling out each portion to just over eighth of an inch thick on a sheet of parchment paper and using cookie cutters to make desired shapes, such as stars and gingerbread people. If planning to use the cookies as a crumble topping or a substitute for graham crackers in a crust, then decorative shapes are unnecessary. Just cut rectangular or diamond shapes with a knife and lift cookies onto a parchment-lined sheet for baking.
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