Carrying on from last week-end’s public holiday theme: July 11th in Belgium is the day when the Flemish community celebrates the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs, in which Flanders rebels routed the forces of King Philip IV of France. To this day, the Walloons and the Flemish don’t agree about much, but at least one thing unites them: a taste for the spiced shortbread biscuits they call speculoos. Traditionally, they’re baked for St Nicholas Day (on December 6th in Belgium), but I’d run out of biscuits and I didn’t feel like waiting…
As with many baking recipes that go back a long way, there are lots of variations. Speculoos recipes vary widely in ratio of the main ingredients (flour / sugar / butter). They vote for water, milk or an egg to stop the mix crumbling. Everyone agrees on using brown sugar (cassonade in French), but there’s lots of choice as to which sub-variety. For the spicing, everyone agrees on cinnamon, but there’s lots of choice as to what else to use: I opted for nutmeg and ginger; additions/alternatives include cloves, allspice, cardamom, star anise and even white pepper. My quantities of spice are on the low side compared to many, so feel free to play around with the quantities here until you have something that’s exactly to your taste. This really looks like a recipe that defies conventional wisdom about all baking needing to be super-accurate.
Ingredients for around 30-36 small biscuits
180g brown sugar (I used a mix of muscovado and soft brown)
50g ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
Soften the butter (if it’s straight from the fridge, chop into small cubes, around 1cm, and leave it while you do everything else).
Mix the flour, sugar, ground almonds, salt and baking powder in a bowl (if you have a stand mixer, you can weigh everything straight into its bowl). Stir everything until all the ingredients are evenly distributed – try to ensure that you’ve got rid of any clumps of sugar.
Add the butter and egg and combine until you have a smooth, even dough – either with the stand mixer or manually with a wooden spoon.
Roll the dough out on a flat surface to a thickness of around 5-7 mm. Try to get it pretty even, because you want your biscuits to be all baked at the same time.
Cut out biscuits with your favourite cookie cutter(s) or cooke mould. If you have young children, you’ll probably want animal shapes, hearts or whatever: my kids are grown up and I couldn’t find any in the house other than a fairly standard circle.
Place on a baking tray lined with a Silpat or silicone baking sheet (if you have one) or baking parchment. You’ll probably need to do two trays worth: this makes around 30-36 biscuits.
Bake for around 15 minutes.
The biscuits cool fine without taking them off the Silpat sheet, but if you’re using anything else, you probably want to turn them over after 10 minutes because the bottoms can get soggy.
Enjoy! Speculoos are the ultimate biscuit to accompany a coffee; they can also be crumbled to make an excellent topping for a fruit-and-cream type of dessert.
Having travelled so far to get to Australia and New Zealand for the Lamington, we might as well stay there for the region’s other iconic bake: the ANZAC biscuit. It’s a biscuit with a story, conjuring up images of the wives and sweethearts of soldiers in the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps lovingly baking them to be sent to their embattled loved ones at Gallipoli and other World War I battlefields. Whether or not this is actually true (Wikipedia is mildly sceptical about the evidence), ANZAC biscuits are a feature of Australian and Kiwi veterans’ fundraising events to this day, their popularity stemming not just from the history but from their general deliciousness: the flavour combination of butter, golden syrup and coconut is a surefire winner.
More prosaically, you can think of ANZAC biscuits are a kind of sweet version of the Scottish oatcake (bake 10). They’re fairly straightforward to make: I followed the basic recipe in the ever-reliable taste.com.au, which gives variants for increased crispiness or chewiness. Most recipes are similar, varying mainly in the amount and type of sugar, with occasional other flavourings added such as vanilla essence.
The quantities here make around 30 biscuits (the eagle-eyed will spot a level of attrition on the way to the biscuit tin).
150g plain flour
90g porridge oats (don’t use jumbo oats, which are likely to result in your biscuits falling apart)
85g desiccated coconut
100g brown sugar
55g caster sugar
40g golden syrup
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
Line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment
Mix the flour, oats, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.
Cut the butter into pieces and put it into a saucepan with the golden syrup and water. Warm gently until the butter is melted and everything is combined.
Add the bicarbonate of soda to the wet mixture and stir to dissolve.
Pour the wet mixture into your bowl and mix thoroughly. You want to make sure that there’s no dry flour visible when you spoon the mixture away from the sides of the bowl.
Scoop out a level tablespoon of mixture (this is a good way of getting the biscuits to be around the same size), roll it into a ball and place it on your first baking tray. Now repeat for the others, allowing as much space as you can between your biscuits.
Now press each biscuit slightly flatter. The 1cm thick suggested gets you a biscuit with a slightly chewy centre: going flatter will get you a crispier version. Either way, the biscuits will spread out somewhat during baking.
Bake for around 15 minutes, switching shelves half way to make sure they’re all baked the same amount.
I eat between meals. Because I’m type 2 diabetic, I need things that I can snack on that are neither overly sweet (we’ll draw a discreet veil over the cake recipes in this series of posts) nor overly salty (I can eat bags of peanuts for days, but this is a terrible idea also). Scottish oatcakes contain little or no sugar, don’t have to be overly salty and are really delicious, either on their own or with a bit of cheese: in short, they are the perfect snack. And they turn out to be one of the easiest things on the planet to bake.
This recipe is only slightly modified from the recipe by BBC good food contributor “zetallgerman”: I’ve changed a few things and added some details, but it’s basically their recipe and hats off to them, because it works like a charm.
I’ve given quite a lot of detail on rolling and cutting here, because this is a really good beginner’s bake – I beg forgiveness from experienced bakers for whom this is all obvious.
225g oats (ordinary porridge oats if you can; jumbo oats need to be blitzed first)
60g wholemeal spelt flour (ordinary wholemeal whear flour is fine: my lockdown larder has spelt flour and it works very well)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda or baking powder
½ tsp salt (zetallgerman says 1 tsp: I prefer ½ to ¾)
½ tsp sugar (optional, as far as I’m concerned)
60g unsalted butter (or use salted and reduce the amount of added salt)
70ml warm water, plus 10ml or so more for the next round
Preheat oven to 190℃ fan
Get a baking tray ready. If it isn’t non-stick, line it with baking paper. You’ll also need something with which to cut the oatcakes into circles: I use a fairly solid mug whose diameter is 9cm, so I just fit 12 oatcakes into my 30cm x 40cm tray.
If your butter came out of the fridge, soften. My favourite way is to cut it into small cubes and leave it in a warm place in the kitchen: five minutes in spring sunshine is plenty.
Mix the oats, flour, baking soda or powder, salt and sugar until everything’s reasonably evenly distributed.
Add the butter and mix thoroughly, pinching with your fingers until all the butter is absorbed. If you can, do this with one hand to keep the other one clean. Pastry and biscuit recipes always say “to the consistency of breadcrumbs”: personally, I’ve never succeeded in achieving anything looking remotely like a breadcrumb, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Add 70ml of warm water and combine everything together into a dough. The amount of water is a bit variable: if your dough fragments horribly when you try to roll it, add a few drops more, remix and try again.
On a floured board, roll your dough out to 4-5mm thickness. Cut a circle (I use a mug) and transfer to your baking sheet (I have to first put the mug over my hand and then thump it for the oatcake to come out). Repeat: if all is well, you should be able to get six oatcakes.
Now gather together the off-cut dough and put it back in your bowl, add a few drops more water and recombine. You can now roll out the dough again and repeat. Hopefully, you’ll manage another four oatcakes this time.
At this stage, I normally have enough dough for two oatcakes. I divide it in half and roll them out individually
Bake for 20 minutes. As well as the usual oven variability, the exact time is a matter of taste: longer = crispier but gives more danger of a burnt taste
That’s it folks – a really low effort bake which has given me reliable results every time!