‘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.
About fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to work in a Dutch bakery over the Christmas season. It wasn’t until then that I learned about the wonderful ‘speculaas spice’ and ‘banket‘.
Bankerstaaf (Dutch Christmas log) or letterbanket is a sweet pastry stick or alphabet letters that originated in the Netherlands. They are popular during the Christmas season to celebrate Sinterklaas. Almond sticks and Dutch letters follow pretty standard, northern European, almond paste- filled pastry recipes. The custom of edible letters goes back to Germanic times when, at birth, children were given a letter made of bread as a symbol of good fortune. Convent schools in the Middle Ages used bread letters to teach the alphabet. When the letter was learned and could be written well, the pupil could eat the bread letter.
Letters became associated with Sinterklaas in the 19th century, when a sheet was used to cover St Nicolas’ presents. A bread dough letter, placed on top of the sheet, identified where a child’s gifts were located. Chocolate letters were first manufactured around 1900.
I was so amazed at the huge volume these almond-filled pastries sold in that Dutch bakery at Christmas time. One taste and I could understand why. If your’e not interested in the time consuming puff pastry process, there are some good quality ones in the frozen department at the supermarkets. I also found some real nice almond paste at an Italian grocery store. If you are an almond lover, this dessert is for you!
If you would like to make your own almond paste there is an easy recipe featured on a site called daringgourmet.com
Dutch Christmas Log
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out puff pastry sheet& cut in half lengthwise.
In a bowl, combine almond paste with orange zest & knead until blended. Divide almond paste into 2 even pieces & roll each one into a log approximately 1-inch shorter than the length of puff pastry.
Place each almond log onto a puff pastry half. Fold 2 shorter ends of the pastry onto almond log. Brush one of the long sides with egg wash. Roll up almond log in pastry so that seam is on the bottom. Transfer logs to baking sheet, brush with egg wash & bake for 25 minutes or until slightly browned on top.
In a microwave-safe dish, heat apricot jam for about 30 seconds or until jam is runny. Brush baked logs with apricot jam; sprinkle with sliced almonds & dust with powdered sugar.
The Difference Between Marzipan & Almond Paste -
- almond paste is softer and is used in baked goods.
- marzipan is firmer and used in making candies/chocolates or as fondant for cakes. Marzipan also uses rose water.