In the holiday baking department: Speculatius / Speculaas
If you’re in the Netherlands (I don’t say Holland, because you might be in the Netherlands without necessarily being in Holland) and you’ve ordered coffee after a meal or a snack, odds are strong that this is the cookie / biscuit that will come along with it. They seem to be everywhere over there.
For most of us who make it at home, this would be a cookie-cutter cookie, but on the Continent they’re likely to turn up in quite ordinary shapes — rectangles or squares — that are ornamented with designs that have been pressed into them with special Speculaas molds. (Very ornate and seriously huge Speculaas biscuits used to be given to children in the Netherlands on St. Nicholas’s Day [December 6th], but I don’t know if this is done any more.)
The flavor is something special. It sounds a little odd to describe a bikkie’s flavor as “fresh”, but this is, and the cardamom used in its spicing is what’s responsible. A lovely fragrance comes off a tin of these when you open it up, and the cinnamon and cloves that are also part of the recipe add a very holidayish scent. So this is nice to bake around this time of year for when you want something just a little different from the cookies you’ve probably been eating since the week before Christmas or thereabouts.
The only frustration about making these at home is when you go looking for a recipe on the Net. The best ones are all German, it seems, but they all seem to call for “spekulatiuswurz”, or “Speculatius seasoning,” which is a big help especially as it gives you no idea what’s in it. Fortunately there is a good scratch recipe in that bible for those interested in central European holiday baking, Festive Baking in Austria, Germany and Switzerland,and this recipe comes from there.
Yesterday I proved I am willing to SHED BLOOD for Belgium by donating to the Rode Kruis. It was a Cultural Experience in that I had no idea what my weight is in kilograms (or my height in centimeters); the nurse taking my blood switched to French and pantomimes when her English failed her; and we were given speculaas cookies afterward.
Here is my victory wafel, minus a few desperate bites:
Tonight I made speculaas (speculoos?) cookies and put vanilla frosting spiked with my late grandmother’s almond extract that is probably 20 years old. The label on the glass bottle has been eaten off by the extract because it is so strong. And it’s only concentrated over the years. The cookies are these German spice cookies that have orange zest in them and the frosting is perfect… I think I’ve eaten two dozen today, no joke.
Today a housemate and I went to the jeneverfeesten in Hasselt, a short train ride away. The festival celebrates jenever, a type of alcohol native to the Low Countries that is made in flavors ranging from apple to chocolate to cactus (I tried a hazelnoot creme; among the ones pictured are cherry, prunes, and speculaas). As in a lot of situations here, though, alcohol is an attraction but not the only attraction. There was also several live jazz and swing bands, lots of delicious street food, people in costumes, stiltwalkers, street organs, and free admission to museums.