‘Speculaas‘ is actually not just a flavor that’s known in the Netherlands. In Germany & Austria its called ‘spekulatius’ and in Belgium & France it s called ‘speculoos’.
I love spices and everything about them …. their history, their applications and how they can add such a depth of flavor to cooking and baking. I first became aware of this Dutch spice mix (speculaaskruiden) some years ago. It isn’t the same as British Mixed Spice or American Pumpkin Pie Spice but they are similar as they share many of the same ingredients. The smell of speculaaskruiden is amazing …. a deliciously warm and woody aroma. Making your own is not difficult but it does require about nine different spices.
In the mid 18th century, the recipe for ‘spekulatius’ made its way to Germany from Holland. The origin of the cookies name may have derived from the Latin word ‘spekulum’, signifying ‘mirror image’, which alludes to the wooden mold whose mirror image appears on the cookie.
In the course of time, many recipes using speculaas spices have been created. For many German folk, spekulatius are as much a part of Christmas as are Christmas trees. Sometimes bakers make dough three months in advance so the flavor will permeate the dough thoroughly.
As the holiday season approaches, I thought it would be nice to try incorporating the speculaas spice into some breakfast scones. I didn’t have any wooden molds so I baked them in those little sandbakkel tins I had spoke of in a blog at the end of November (Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets). The flavor and tenderness of the scones is just amazing.
German Spekulatius Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine orange zest, sugar & spice mix. Set aside 1 Tbsp. of sugar mixture reserving it for the tops.
To the remaining orange/sugar, add flour, oat flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt; mix well. Add butter, cutting in until mixture forms fine crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, eggs & vanilla, blending well. Add to flour mixture; stir ONLY until soft dough forms.
Drop by heaping 1/4 cupful's, 2-inches apart on to baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved sugar mixture & sprinkle with almonds. Alternately you can use some baking tins as I did in which case only use a couple of Tbsp per scone.
Bake 15-20 minutes (for the larger size) or until scones are golden on top. Remove to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
HOMEMADE SPECULAAS SPICE MIX: (yield: 6 Tbsp)
- 5 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp EACH nutmeg & cloves
- 1/2 tsp EACH ground aniseed, white pepper, ground coriander, ginger, cardamom & mace
- Mix spices together & either use right away or store in an airtight jar.
- This recipe can easily be incorporated into many recipes or just make the amount you need.
Baking Christmas cookies is a customary activity of the season around the world. The tradition itself, can be sourced all the way back to the monasteries of the Middle Ages, when monks baked different sweets and breads in observance of this anticipated religious season.
Germany being a religious country, often the baking begins at the start of Advent (November 29th/20), or around the time of St. Nickolas Day and continues in preparation for Christmas. Many families still observe recipe traditions that go back several generations.
Germany’s ‘Weihnachtsplatzchen‘ is actually an umbrella term referring to authentic German Christmas biscuits more broadly and it encapsulates a number of festive treats. An all time favorite, the ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ cookie being one of them.
Twelve years ago (2008), Oreo cookies were all but unknown to Germany. The beloved black (or deep brown) and white, twistable sandwich cookies have been a staple in North American pantries for a century, but now have made inroads in Europe.
These German Oreo (melt-in-your-mouth) Shortbread cookies are a unique spin on the classic version.
German Oreo Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, Oreo crumbs (or cookies) & cardamom. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter with powdered sugar; add vanilla & mix well. Add Oreo/flour mixture; mix only enough to blend. DO NOT overmix.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Crimp edges by pressing edge of pastry with finger & then pinching together.
Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle in the center of dough. Cut round into 12-14 wedges, from circle to outer edges. Prick shortbread in a pattern with a fork. Slide a cookie sheet under the parchment that the cookie round is on & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator & decorate if you wish. Bake for about 18-22 minutes. When baked, recut wedges if necessary & cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.
When most people mention biscotti, they actually mean a specific type of Italian cookie called ‘cantuccini’. Italians use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square and otherwise as the British use the word biscuit. Here in North America, biscotti refers to a specific type of Italian cookie, derived from the ‘Tuscan cantuccini‘, which is a hard, almond flavored cookie that is baked twice and usually served with the sweet Italian dessert wine, Vino Santo. This wine is loved for its intense flavors of hazelnut and caramel. When paired with biscotti, Vino Santo is inarguably Italy’s most famous welcoming tradition. What makes this wine truly special is the natural winemaking process which gives it a unique taste.
The word biscotti derives from ‘bis’, Latin for twice, and ‘coctum’ or baked (which became ‘cotto’, or cooked).
The original biscotti was created by a bakery in Prato, Italy. Cantuccini became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato then spread throughout the Italian peninsula. Tuscan biscotti are flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. From the original recipe it expanded to lemon flavored dough as well as other flavors and spices with additions such as raisins, dried fruits and peels to chocolate morsels and nuts.
Biscotti have been baked for centuries and its iconic texture was the perfect for for sailors who were at sea for months. In modern times, biscotti range in texture from very hard to somewhat spongy and more cake-like. First, the sticky dough is shaped into a log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal pieces and baked again to cook out the moisture and produce the crisp, dry-textured cookie with a longer shelf life. The classic recipe has no butter or oil, using only eggs to bind the ingredients together. They are typically made in a 3, 5 or 7-inch size.
I have to be honest, biscotti has never been one of my ‘go-to’ cookie recipes. But, for something quick and easy, I decided to make a small recipe using two of my favorite ingredients …. anise seed & citron peel. Brion & I tried dipping them in wine and we realized we have been missing out on something real good!!
Anise Citron Biscotti
In a bowl, combine oil & sugar followed by vanilla & eggs.
In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder & anise seed then gradually stir this mixture into the egg mixture. Lastly, fold in citron peel.
Divide dough in half & form into two logs (about 6"x 2"). Place logs on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes; remove from oven & set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 F.
Cut logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the slices on their sides on lined baking sheet.
Bake for another 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.
We are now officially into fall, so its time to think in terms of a bit of pumpkin. I had not considered pumpkin as part of a sandwich cookie before, but oatmeal with pumpkin and cream cheese makes good sense to me. There’s more to oatmeal cookies than the recipe on the Quaker Oats box. In fact there’s a lot of amazing combinations out there but first a bit of food history.
Oatmeal cookies evolved from oatcakes, a type of plain flatbread made centuries ago by the British and the Scots. Raisins and nuts were added to the mix somewhere around the Middle Ages to make them tastier. When oatmeal cookies became elevated to the ranks of ‘health food’, a recipe for them appeared on containers of Quaker Oats. These recipes were circulated widely and oatmeal cookies were soon common in households throughout North America.
An important part of these cookies lies in the spices. Rather than using a pre-made ‘pumpkin pie spice’, I like to give them a personal touch by using my own combination. This way, you can control the flavor better. Feel free to adjust the spice mix to suit your taste or just simply go with cinnamon.
Oatmeal Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies
In a small bowl, whisk together spice mix combination from recipe notes & set aside.
In a bowl, beat together cream cheese & butter until smooth. Add in pumpkin & mix until fully incorporated. Add remaining spice mixture & powdered sugar about 1/4 cup at a time, allowing each prior amount to fully mix into the filling before adding more.
Spread or pipe filling on half of the cooled cookies & top with remaining cookies. This recipe makes 5 dozen filled cookies so you may want to freeze some.
- Spice Mixture Recipe (2 1/8 tsp):
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp EACH nutmeg & cloves
- 1/8 tsp EACH ginger, cardamom & white pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground star anise
Although, this is a fruit we can buy all year-round, strawberries are synonymous with summer. In the 1960’s, the chocolate fondue was invented by Konrad Egli of the Swiss Chalet Restaurant in the USA. He came up with the idea as a way to encourage customers to buy dessert. This idea has since faded into the background of the dessert scene but doesn’t mean its not fair game for an update.
For anyone who is a chocoholic, there are just so many sweet things up can dip into chocolate sauce from fruit to chunks of cake or cookies.
Individual desserts add such a elegant, personal touch. These little ceramic, ‘amuse busch’ dishes are normally used for a small delicacy that is served to let you experience a taste of what is coming in the main course. In this case, its a little something to have after dinner.
If you are interested in getting a few of these ‘spoons’, I found them at a T&T Supermarket for about $1.85 each. So cute, inexpensive & a must have for a special occasion.
Fresh Strawberries w/ Hot Fudge Sauce
Place the chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl & set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar & butter; place over medium heat & bring JUST to a simmer, stirring often.
Remove from heat & pour immediately over chocolate. Let stand until the chocolate has melted, then stir gently until smooth.
Whisk in vanilla & the liqueur (if using). Place some of the hot fudge sauce in each of the ceramic amuse busch dishes & top with a fresh strawberry.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is as classic as it comes but pineapple tart or pie, not so much. The original recipe appeared in a fund-raising cookbook in the USA around 1924. Later Gold Metal Flour came out with a full page ad in a women’s magazine in 1925.
Since then, there are many variations to this classic cake. The sweet-tart flavor of pineapple works beautifully alongside a wide range of companion flavors and ingredients as well as the gentle spices of ginger, cinnamon and vanilla to enhance it just a bit more.
Because this particular fruit doesn’t ripen further after being picked, its good to look for a pineapple that is heavy for its size, with a rich, sweet fragrance.
Pineapple pie is not the number one star among pies. In the fall and winter season, its probably apple and in spring and summer, strawberry or maybe blueberry. However, I thought I’d make a ‘hybrid’ version of the old classic. This pineapple tart looks beautiful presented as one large ring, although it could easily be made into individual tarts as well. Of course, don’t hesitate to top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped topping.
Spiced Pineapple Puff Tart
In a small saucepan, melt butter then add ginger, cinnamon & sugar; stir to dissolve. Add orange juice & bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla & allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to infuse flavors. Peel pineapple & cut into quarters. Remove the core, then slice into 1 cm chunks, then place them into a deep dish. Reheat the syrup; pour over pineapple & allow to marinate until ready to use.
Roll the pastry out on a piece of parchment paper to a thickness of 1/8-inch, then trim to make a large circle. Cut out about a 2-inch circle from the center to form a ring. Cut any pastry that has been trimmed off into pieces & place on top of circle giving it a second layer. Transfer to a baking sheet & place in fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
Strain the syrup from the pineapple into a small saucepan. Add cornstarch; place over a medium heat to thicken.
Prick the pastry ring all over with a fork, then arrange the pineapple pieces in a fan around the ring.
Dust the tart liberally with powdered sugar & bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is caramelized & golden brown. When ready to serve, drizzle with spiced syrup & top with a scoop of ice cream.
Not only does kiwi look and taste like no other fruit, its also available when some of the other fresh fruits aren’t. The month of February is a good time for this favorite duo. Ever since the 80’s, when the world first fell in love with the kiwi/strawberry flavor, the combo is in everything. I guess its because they are the perfect complement to each other’s flavor profile.
Since there are just the two of us at our house, I always like the idea of making individual desserts. Upside down cakes are so versatile, quick and uncomplicated. You can make them plain , fancy, sweet, savory, large, small …. your choice!
Today, my plan is to make some kiwi/walnut cakes with a strawberry coulis. A fruit coulis (pronounced koo-Lee) is a thick sauce made from pureed and strained fruit. They may also be made from fruit jams or preserves that are strained and diluted with water, liquor or simple syrup. Additional seasonings such as spices may be used as well as acids like lemon juice, but they are typically kept simple to avoid ‘muddying’ the flavor with too many ingredients. Coulis originally referred to the juices from cooked meats and may also be made with cooked vegetables.
Coulis can be used in many different ways such as plate decoration or just for a burst of complimentary flavor. My strawberry coulis certainly worked its magic on these little kiwi cakes.
Kiwi Walnut Mini Cakes w/ Strawberry Coulis
Preheat oven to 350 F. lightly butter 6 custard baking cups. From parchment paper, cut circles to lay on the bottom of each. Divide melted butter between the 6 cups. Sprinkle with the brown sugar & walnuts. top with kiwi fruit slices.
In a small bowl, beat together eggs & sugar until thick; gradually beat in oil. In a small dish, combine flour, baking powder, spices & salt. Stir flour mixture into egg/sugar mixture, then add orange juice & vanilla. Stir ONLY until combined.
Pour the batter over fruit in custard cups, dividing it evenly between them. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick. Allow cakes to cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a rack to finish cooling.
In a medium saucepan, combine strawberries, sugar & lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat & cool for a few minutes. Transfer to blender; puree until smooth, strain & set aside until ready to serve.
Place some coulis on individual dessert plates & top with a kiwi cake. Store any leftover coulis in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.