OK, so there are a few dubious categorisations here to make the images line up. But I’ve done my best.
Austrians don’t necessarily like to think too hard about how close they became to being a Turkish province and quite how much they have to thank the Poles that this didn’t happen. In 1683, the Turks neared the city gates, to be defeated in the Battle of Vienna when the forces of the Holy Roman Empire were joined by the Polish army of King John III Sobieski.
For some reason, however, the crescent moon of the Turkish flag lives on in Austrian culture in the shape of Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents): delectable, crumbly nut-flavoured biscuits that are particularly popular as a Christmas treat. They’ve spread from their origins in Vienna all over Germanic countries and many Eastern European ones, including (of course) Poland.
My wife has Austrian blood in her if you go back a century or so and this recipe came down from one of her relatives. It’s similar to many Austrian recipes today. There are choices to be made: this uses almonds, but walnuts are a popular choice and you also see hazelnuts. Some recipes have a slightly higher ratio of flour to everything else, and some add an egg to the dough to bind it, giving you a slightly richer and considerably less crumbly result with greater structural integrity.
This looks like a straightforward recipe but it’s trickier than many biscuit/cookie recipes because it’s easy to get the texture wrong. Undergrind your nuts and you’ll get a grainy, rather lumpen biscuit which tastes fine but just doesn’t feel right. Overprocess or overwork the dough – especially if your hands are too warm – and the butter will come out and you lose the flavour. But if you get this right, Vanillekipferl have a crumbly butteriness that makes them a rare treat.
The quantities here give you 300g of dough which will yield 15-20 Vanillekipferl. It scales really easily – just multiply by as much as you want. But be aware that a standard size baking tray won’t take many more than 20, because they spread.
The ground almond mixture
You don’t have to make grind your own almonds: you can just buy a pack of ground almonds and add sugar. But doing your own with good quality almonds will result in a better tasting biscuit.
I keep a jar of vanilla sugar, which is simply a jar of caster sugar with a couple of vanilla pods in it which has been left in the cupboard more or less indefinitely. Again, you don’t have to do this: you can either rely on adding more vanilla essence or buy a packet of pre-made vanilla sugar (which is what most Austrian recipes suggest).
- 50g almonds in their shells
- 50g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
- Put the almonds into a bowl and cover with boiling water.
- Wait around 15 minutes, then discard the water and pop each almond out of its skin. When you’ve finished, pat the almonds dry with a tea towel or kitchen roll and discard the skins.
- Put the almonds and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds have been ground very fine. This should take around 1-2 minutes. Leave them in the bowl – you’ll be adding the other ingredients shortly.
Making the Kipferl
- 100g butter
- 100g plain flour
- Pinch of salt (⅛ tsp is plenty)
- Vanilla essence to taste – but be generous
- Preheat oven to 160℃ fan.
- Line a baking tray with a Silpat sheet, or baking paper if you don’t have one.
- Cut the butter into cubes (between 5-10mm).
- Add the butter, flour and vanilla essence to your food processor bowl with the almonds and sugar.
- Process the mixture until it comes together into a smooth dough.
- Take a small ball of dough, around 15-20g, compress it in your hands and roll it into a cigar shape around 8 cm long.
- Form the dough into a crescent and place it onto your baking sheet. Make sure to keep at least a couple of centimetres between each crescent, because the Kipferl will spread in the oven more than you expect.
- Repeat for the other Kipferl and bake until just beginning to go golden – this will take around 16-18 minutes. You want them fairly pale for the best flavour.
- Remove from the oven, slide your Silpat sheet off the baking tray and leave to cool. Handle with care because the Kipferl are quite fragile.
- If any of the Kipferl have merged together when they spread, separate them gently with a knife and serve.
I stop here, because the Vanillekipferl are plenty sweet enough for me already. But Austrian recipes now dust theKkipferl with icing sugar in one or both of the following stages:
- Immediately after taking out of the oven. In this case, the icing sugar will be absorbed into the Kipferl.
- After the Kipferl have been cooled. In this case, the icing will stay as a pretty powdery dusting on the top.
It would, of course, be close to criminal to miss out on having these with good coffee…
Like most of East Asia, Korea doesn’t really have a long-standing baking tradition – it’s to do with the relative scarcity of slow-burning fuel, which means that cooking is more likely to be done fast, at high temperature in a wok. However, Western baking has found its way to Korea (by way of Japan, in this case), where it has adopted a decidedly Korean accent. If you visit Seoul, I can vouch for the fact that their bakeries and patisseries are extremely popular and of super-high quality – even a relatively mundane chain bakery in a Seoul subway seems capable of turning out mouth-watering croissants.
In the case of gyepi-manju, the cookies that I’ve made here, the Asian accent comes in the form of sweetened bean paste and the specifically Korean accent is their love of sesame seeds. They’re pleasant, not over-sweetened cookies: some Westerners will want to add more sugar.
I started with a recipe from New-York based Korean cook Maangchi. While this isn’t the hardest bake in the world, there’s definitely room for error – and I made a few, which are visible in the photos. The first of these: Maangchi expects you to take the skins off your broad beans *before* boiling them, which I forgot to do. Taking them off afterwards is fine, but you need a much longer boil. The second is that I ran out of sesame seeds, so I substituted some decidedly un-Korean poppy seeds in my last few gyepi-manju (they were fine).
As usual, I’ve gone for metric quantities and ingredient names from the UK. I’ve shown the way I did the beans, since it worked fine. Go to the original if you prefer.
The bean paste
- 200g butter beans
- 100g sugar (1 cup)
- A pinch of salt – perhaps 1g
- Vanilla essence to taste
- Put the butter beans in a bowl and cover with a lot of cold water: soak overnight.
- Transfer the beans to a saucepan, cover in water and boil until soft, skimming off the worst of the scum that will accumulate at the top.
- Drain the beans and leave until cool enough to handle.
- Remove the tough outer skin of the beans and discard, placing the peeled beans in the bowl of food processor.
- Add sugar, salt and vanilla, and process until very smooth (this takes longer than you expect).
- Put into a covered bowl and refrigerate while you make the dough.
- 15 g butter
- 80g condensed milk
- 130g flour
- 1 egg
- 5g baking powder
- 2g salt
- Vanilla extract to taste
- Melt the butter and pour into a bowl
- Add the condensed milk and stir
- Add egg, baking powder, salt and vanilla and stir
- Add the flour and mix until you have a smooth dough
- Cover in cling film (or put in a sealed bowl) and leave to rest for at least an hour – I actually ended up doing this overnight, which was fine.
Final assembly and baking
- Generous amounts of sesame seeds (black, white or half and half) – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
- 1 egg yolk
- flour for rolling
- Generous amounts of ground cinnamon – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Set aside.
- Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Flour your board
- Separate the bean paste into two halves. Separate the dough into two halves.
- Form a half of the bean paste into a ball.
- Roll half of the dough into a circle big enough to be wrapped around the ball.
- Roll your assembled ball into a log.
- Repeat for the second half of the bean paste and dough.
- Spread cinnamon powder over a space of your board that’s been cleared of flour.
- Brush water over a log of dough and roll it in the cinnamon so that it’s thoroughly coated. Keep adding cinnamon if you have to – it’s hard to overdo. Repeat for the second log.
- Cut your log into individual cookies (I made 12 each for a total of 24). Array them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper (or, better still, a Silpat sheet).
- Brush the tops of the cookies with beaten egg, and scatter generous amounts of sesame over them.
- Bake for around 20 minutes until golden brown. Take out and leave to cool.
It’s time for a trip back to the Middle East to refill the cookie jar with what, according to Wikipedia and others, is the “national cookie of Iraq”: Kleicha (or Kleisha; as usual with Arabic, transliterations vary). Recipes also vary, particularly as to shape and choice of spices, but the most common appear to be a spiral of dough interleaved with a cardamom-infused date paste.
Kleicha turn out to be trickier to make than I expected: most of the recipes I’ve seen produce an incredibly crumbly dough. On my first attempt, the dough was almost impossible to roll and the kleicha came out at an unpleasantly sandy texture. Fortunately, I persevered, because my second attempt was a real success: the flavour combination of date and cardamom being a winner. It only worked, however, by using hugely more water than in my base recipe, from 196flavors.com.
I couldn’t find ready-made date paste, so I made my own. Another pitfall from my first attempt was getting the texture wrong so I couldn’t spread the paste: second time round, it came out perfectly.
The quantities here were supposedly for 40 kleicha – I made 32.
The date paste
- ½ tsp ground cardamom (or 20 or so cardamom pods)
- 400g soft dates (choose Medjool or similar in preference to the harder Deglet Nour)
- Milk as needed (a few tablespoons)
- If the dates aren’t already stoned, take out the stones and discard
- If you are starting from cardamom pods, pound them in a pestle and mortar to get the seeds out and get rid of the husks.
- Put the dates and cardamom into a food processor and blitz for a minute or two.
- Add a little milk and blitz some more: keep doing this until you get a puree the consistency of toothpaste.
- 15g caster sugar
- 10g dried yeast
- 170ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
- 700g plain flour
- 10g salt
- 15g nigella seeds
- 225g butter
- Melt the butter.
- Mix sugar, water and yeast and leave until frothy.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, salt and nigella seeds and mix evenly.
- Add the butter and mix for a few seconds.
- Then add the yeast/water mix and mix until you have a smooth dough. You may want to add more water than I’ve shown – the quantity shown here was barely OK.
- Leave dough to rest for around an hour.
Putting it all together
- 1 egg and a bit of milk for a wash
- Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
- Cut two sheets of baking paper, around 40cm long.
- Divide your dough into four parts.
- Form a ball of dough into a rectangle, place it between your two sheets of baking paper and roll it out as thinly as you can manage.
- Take a quarter of your date paste and spread it evenly over your rectangle of dough.
- Using the baking paper to help you, roll it up along the long end (Swiss roll style) as tightly as you can
- Cut your cylinder into 8 pieces (or 10 if you want smaller cookies) and place on a baking sheet
- Repeat for the remaining three parts of dough. You’ll end up with two baking sheets’ worth, which you can bake together or one after the other.
- Beat the egg with a little milk to make a wash; spread this over your cookies. (I’m labelling this stage as optional because I forgot to do it, resulting in kleicha which weren’t as pretty as they might have been but tasted fine).
- Bake until golden and thoroughly cooked – if you break off a bit of cookie and taste it, there should be no hint of raw flour. This took around 20-25 minutes in my oven – yours may differ.
- Cool on a rack.
The Japanese may not have centuries worth of baking tradition: their traditional cuisine is more likely to involve steaming or cooking in a pan. But they’ve taken to the Western idea of baked desserts with a vengeance and added flavours that are characteristically Japanese. Green matcha tea cookies are a favourite for many, but as I’m not particularly fond of matcha, so I’ve gone for a different flavouring: black sesame seeds. These cookies (黒胡麻クッキー or Kuro goma kukkī) are very popular in Japan, they’re easy to make, not too sweet and have a distinct taste that I remember from trips to Japan but not from anywhere else. Thanks to Nami and her blog justonecookbook.com for the recipe.
I’ve followed Nami’s recipe reasonably accurately for my first effort (she gives an option of keeping the sesame seeds whole or grinding them – I went for keeping them whole). Next time, I might go for grinding them and using a few more to get a bigger hit of sesame flavour. I might also take the sugar down a bit, although these aren’t extremely sweet by any means. If you’re looking at the photos, it’s clear that I should probably have sliced the cookies a lot thinner to get a crisper result.
- 40g black sesame seeds
- 160g plain flour
- 40g ground almonds
- 80g caster sugar
- 2g salt
- 120g unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- Toast the sesame seeds in a pan until fragrant, leave to cool slightly.
- In the bowl of your food processor, weight out the flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt. Stir until evenly mixed (or, if you dare, pulse the food processor briefly).
- Take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into cubes. Add to the food processor and run until you have an even crumbly mix.
- Add the egg and sesame seeds and pulse for a few seconds until everything is even.
- Now take the mixture out of your food processor into a bowl and bring together with your hands until you have a smooth dough.
- Form your dough into a long sausage. (Nami’s recipe says to cut the dough into two and do two sausages – I forgot). Wrap them in cling film and refrigerate for around an hour. Ideally, the sausage(s) should be round, but it’s fairly hard to avoid having a flat edge.
- Meanwhile, prepare two baking trays with baking paper (or silicone mats) and preheat oven to 175℃.
- Take the sausage of dough out of the fridge and cut it into circular slices around 5mm in width. Lay these out on your baking trays, allowing room for a bit of expansion.
- Bake for around 15 minutes until a light golden colour.
- Leave to cool on a rack for as long as you can manage without scoffing them.
The biscuit tin (Americans: read “cookie jar”) was empty. So it was time to head back to the Middle East to refill it, in the shape of ma’amoul, filled cookies made from a shortbread dough rich in semolina. The filling is usually made of dates and/or nuts (usually pistachios, almonds or walnuts): for this first attempt, I used a date and walnut mix.
I’ve gone for a very simple, easy version of ma’amoul, using baking powder rather than yeast and eschewing any overnight resting. Even allowing for an hour’s resting, this takes not much over 90 minutes start to finish. The result was a crumbly, tasty biscuit that wasn’t excessively sweet and that I would definitely make again.
I used good quality soft medjool dates, which are easy to purée to paste with good consistency; various Middle East recipes consider that making your own date paste is tedious, preferring commercially made product.
Once ma’amoul have been filled and formed into their balls, they are often pressed into a patterned wooden mould, because (a) it makes them look pretty and (b) if you’re making more than one different filling, you can use a different pattern for each one. Strangely enough, I don’t own a ma’amoul mould, and if I bought the approved piece of specialist equipment for every item I fancy baking, my house would be filled several times over with baking junk, so I improvised the desired dome shape using a gravy ladle and a coffee tamper. It’s not like I expect everyone to have a gravy ladle, but you get the idea. If you’re doing more than one filling but you don’t have multiple moulds, you can try doing your own decorating by punching indents with a fork or skewer.
This recipe made 16 generously sized ma’amoul. Photo warning: these are more cracked and crumbly than I’d like. I should have added a bit more water to the dough.
- 110 g butter
- 40g icing sugar
- 240g semolina flour
- 160g plain flour
- 4g baking powder
- 30g milk
- 30g orange blossom or rose water
- Pour everything into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix the whole lot for one or two minutes until thoroughly smoothly combined. The dough should be wet enough to be able to pick up stray bits of flour from the side of the bowl, but no more than that. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s really crumbly, add a bit more milk.
- Form the dough into a ball, and leave to stand at room temperature for around an hour.
Filling and baking
The quantities given are what I made as shown in the photos. The next time I make ma’amoul, I’m planning to use 200g dates and no walnuts – I’m not convinced they complement each other and I’d prefer a bit more filling. I would do a walnut filling as an alternative, chopping some 100g of walnuts very finely, adding a couple of teaspoons of syrup and making them into a paste.
- 40g walnuts
- 125g medjool or other soft dates
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
- Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant.
- If your dates aren’t pitted, take the stones out now.
- Blitz the dates to a soft puree. Add a tiny amount of water if you need to, or more if your dates were quite hard. You could add sugar syrup rather than water if you want a sweeter filling.
- Have a 40x30cm baking sheet ready.
- Divide your dough into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
- Divide your filling into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
- Roll out a ball of dough flat and wide enough that you’ll be able to wrap it round your ball of filling
- Place a ball of filling in the middle of your dough, then stretch it over to cover.
- Press the whole ball into your mould (or, in my case, gravy ladle)
- Take the cookie out of the mould and place on your baking sheet
- When you’ve done all 16 ma’amoul, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes. They should be a pale brown colour: don’t bake them as far as the more usual “golden brown”.
- On removal from the oven, dust with icing sugar to taste.
After taking on a bake with a serious degree of difficulty with make-your-own-strudel-pastry last week, it was time for something at the opposite end of the scale: a simple, unpretentious cookie that takes minimal effort and skill to prepare but delivers lovely flavour and texture. In short, Azerbaijan’s butter cookies called Shaker churek (to my shame, I have no idea how to pronounce the name).
This recipe comes from a splendid Dutch blog called the cookie companion. It’s the simplest version I found: there are other recipes that use yeast.
- 14og butter
- 100g icing sugar
- 225g flour
- 1 egg
- vanilla essence to taste
- In a bowl, weigh out the icing sugar
- Melt the butter, not letting it get too hot, and add it to the icing sugar: mix until smooth
- Add the flour and mix thoroughly – you will get a dough that’s far too dry, which is fine at this stage
- Separate the egg; keep half the yolk aside and add the other half yolk and all the white to your mix.
- Add the vanilla essence, and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth, slightly damp dough
- Cover and leave in the refrigerator for around an hour
- Preheat oven to 180℃
- Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet or baking paper
- Divide the dough into eight equal parts (they should be just over 60g each). For each part into a ball, flatten slightly and place it on your baking sheet. Warning here: the cookies spread, so make sure you leave plenty of space around them.
- With the end of a finger or some other implement (like the end of a rolling pin, if you have that kind of rolling pin), make a small depression in the middle of each cookie. Fill the depression with the reserved egg yolk.
- Bake for around 15 minutes
Like most cookies, shaker churek are really, really good straight out of the oven: but leave them to cool for a few minutes so that they don’t actually burn your mouth!
When my daughter’s Argentinian colleague returns to London after a trip home, you can predict with certainty that he will be carrying a number of packs of Alfajores, his country’s favourite sweet treat. They’re biscuits made from a dough rich in butter and cornflour; a layer of dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk) is sandwiched between a pair of biscuits, with the edges of the filling rolled in desiccated coconut – or, as in the version I’ve made here, dipped in chocolate, in which case they’re called “Alfajores marplatenses” (from Mar del Plata). The combination of crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth biscuit, soft caramel and chocolate is a sure fire winner.
I made alfajores of the most often recommended size, around 5 cm diameter, which are substantial enough to make a complete small dessert on their own, the alternative being to make smaller “alfajorcitos” of 3-4 cm diameter.
Recipes for the biscuits vary to a fair extent and my choices were largely dictated by the ingredients I had to hand. Here are some of the things you can adjust:
- Ratio of cornflour to wheat flour (many recipes put in significantly more cornflour than my 50/50).
- Flavourings: some recipes choose a dash of cognac or orange liqueur in addition to or instead of the lemon zest that I’ve used.
- You can add cocoa powder and/or use brown sugar to get a darker biscuit
The recipe that follows made 12 fully assembled alfajores with plenty of biscuits and a bit of chocolate to spare. But this will depend very much on the thickness and diameter to which you roll and cut them.
The dulce de leche filling
If you’re in Spain or the Americas, the chances are that ready made dulce de leche is available in your local supermarket. Otherwise, here’s how to make it from sweetened condensed milk (if you can’t find that, you can make dulce de leche from scratch from milk and sugar, as shown in this post on Epicurious, but that looks like a lot of work).
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (around 400g)
- Heat oven to 220℃
- Pour the condensed milk into a small oven proof dish
- Cover the dish with foil and place it in a high-sided baking tray. Fill the rest of the tray with water to around 2-3cm up the side of the dish
- Bake for around 60 minutes until the milk has turned light brown
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool, stirring occasionally to get any lumps out
- 200g butter
- 100g sugar (most recipes suggest icing sugar, which I didn’t have)
- 3 egg yolks
- vanilla essence to taste
- grated zest of one lemon
- 150g plain flour
- 150g cornflour
- 10g baking powder
- Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, whip the butter gently
- Add the sugar and beat until well creamed
- Add the eggs and beat
- Add the lemon zest and vanilla and mix in
- In a bowl, combine the flours and baking powder and stir evenly. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix until you have a smooth batter
- Wrap the ball of batter with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes
- Place the batter between two sheets of cling film and roll out to around 3-5mm thickness
- Cut the batter into circles and transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. The biscuits will expand, so leave around 2cm gap between them (I didn’t leave enough), which means you’ll probably need two baking sheets.
- Bake for around 10 minutes until golden brown
- Leave to cool
Assembly and dipping
Warning: the many wonderful features of alfajores do NOT include structural integrity. They are very fragile – the crumbliness is part of the appeal – so handle with care!
- 300g cooking chocolate (I used 150g milk and 150g dark, but choose anything you like)
- Grease a sheet of baking parchment and put it onto a baking tray or board that you can put in the fridge
- Break up the chocolate into a heatproof dish wide enough for you to dip a biscuit easily. Place the dish over boiling water and wait for the chocolate to be all melted, stirring occasionally
- Spread the flat side of a biscuit with dulce de leche. The pros use a piping bag to do this, but if you don’t have one, a spatula works OK. Add another biscuit, flat side down, to form a sandwich.
- Using a couple of forks, dip the biscuit into the melted chocolate and cover it completely. Hold it up to allow most of the excess to drip off, and transfer to your sheet of baking paper.
- Repeat for the remaining biscuits
- Place in the refrigerator for several hours for the chocolate to harden
Several Alfajores recipes point out that step 6 is more or less impossible to accomplish, including the one which goes “my mum always says these should be eaten the next day but I’ve never managed this”. I can confirm that they *are* better the next day, but I’ll leave the decision to you and your self-control…
Cocadas are everywhere throughout the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. They’re the bake is for coconut lovers: there’s nothing I’ve ever mode which has a higher percentage of pure coconut.
In most places, cocadas show up as balls or swirls (they’re often translated as “coconut cookies” or “coconut macaroons”). In Bolivia, they make them as “bar cookies”, which I take to mean baked in a tray and cut into squares, somewhat like brownies.
Western recipes tend to use sweetened condensed milk: I’ve started with a recipe from “Bolivia bella” in which you make your own condensed milk by starting with coconut milk and sugar. The original then adds freshly grated coconut, but I didn’t have any, so I’ve put in desiccated coconut at the beginning of the process to allow it to rehydrate while the coconut milk is condensing. I’ve also considerably reduced the proportion of sugar to coconut – you can increase it to 200g if you prefer a sweeter end product.
- 400ml coconut milk
- 150g desiccated coconut
- 150g sugar
- 3 egg yolks (mine clocked in at around 54g)
- 10g sesame seeds
- 25g butter
- grated rind of 1 lemon (around 2g)
- Heat oven to 160℃ fan
- Line a baking tin with parchment: I used a 23cm x 23cm tin
- Mix the coconut milk, the desiccated coconut and the sugar into a saucepan.
- Bring to the boil and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until thickened to a paste. Take it off the heat and stir in the sesame seeds, butter and lemon rind – mix until the butter is melted and combined. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes more: you don’t want to scramble the eggs in the next step.
- Beat the egg yolks thoroughly, then add them to the mix and blend them in quickly
- Return the saucepan to a low heat and cook for a few minutes longer until the mixture is very thick.
- Remove from the heat and spread the batter evenly into your tin.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until firm to hard. Use a longer time for a crisp biscuit, a shorter time for a softer brownie-like consistency.
- Leave to cool in the tin. You’ll struggle to extract it when it’s still warm.
- Remove the whole thing from the tin and cut into squares or rectangles.
Confession time on the photos: I got the baking temperature/time badly wrong on my first attempt and then inexplicably used the wrong baking pan on the second. So my final cocadas are too thin and unevenly baked. But they still taste great…
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
- 125g butter
- 250g flour
- 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
- 1 egg
- 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.