I have not heard about Speculoos until I visited my friend in Brussels two years ago. She insisted that I take home a heavy jar of that typical Belgium specialty for kids to try. It looked pretty much like crushed cookies mixed with caramel.
Speculoos for Belgium is what Nutella is for Italians, and peanut butter for Americans--a spread that is served on anything you like, mostly bread. It is creamy but at the same time almost crunchy with the buttery caramel taste, enhanced by some spices.
I did not expect to be impressed much with Speculoos. But when I tried it, I became highly addicted to it, especially with a sweet tooth like mine. I alternated with my son making frequent trips to the kitchen cabinet where Speculoos was hidden and three days later the whole jar was gone.
I looked at the list of ingredients trying to discover the secret of its taste but there was nothing special in it but regular cookie ingredients. I searched different sources to get the right recipe. All the recipes I found were pretty similar. The only difference is that some used egg, some did not. Some recipes called for light brown sugar, other for dark brown sugar. Recently, one was also shared in The Washington Post Wednesday food section.
This week I volunteered to prepare two dozen cookies for my son's Christmas cookie party at school. Instead of making typical American cookies, which I am not good at, I decided to try the WP recipe for Speculoos cookies. My choice was also very seasonally appropriate: in Belgium, they make these cookies on the 6th of December for St. Nicolas and serve them trough the entire Christmas season.
Speculoos cookies are traditionally very thin and either square or animal-shaped, but it is hard to make them very thin at home. I made them about 1/8 inch thick and used Christmas cookie cutters to make different shapes. I also used an advice from the Washington Post recipe and rolled out the dough between wax paper sheets which made working with that pretty sandy dough much easier.
2 sticks plus two tbsp (250 g) of good quality butter, room temperature,
1 and 1/2 cup dark brown sugar,
4 and 1/2 cups sifted unbleached, all purpose flour,
1 tsp baking powder,
3 tbsp milk,
1/2 egg (or no egg at all but add extra tbsp of milk),
1 tsp ground clove,
1 tsp ground cinnamon,
1/2 tsp ground star anise,
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg,
1/2 tsp salt,
1. Beat butter with sugar in a stand-up mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until smooth. Stop the mixer a couple of times and scrape the walls of the bowl.
2. Beat egg with milk in a separate bowl and add to the butter mixture. Run mixer for about 2 minutes, or until all ingredients are combined.
3. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add them to the mixture, about a cup at a time, while running the mixer on a low speed. Let incorporate each dose in between, scraping again the walls in between. The dough would be kind of lumpy and sandy but not too sticky.
4. Place the dough on a working surface. Knead gently to form one big ball. Divide it in half.
5. Cut four large pieces of waxing paper about 20 inches long. Place half of the dough in between two wax paper sheets and roll it out with a rolling pin into a rather thin square. Leave the dough between the wax paper sheets. Place both of them on top of each other on a cookie sheet and refrigerate, preferably over night or at least for two hours.
6. Preheat oven to 370F.
7. Grease two or three large cookie sheets with butter.
8. Place the first piece of a dough on a working surface. Remove wax paper from the top of the dough and cut out cookies with the cookie cutter (or a sharp knife, if you do rectangles).
9. Using a thin spatula, transfer them to the baking sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until brown. Cool them on a wire rack.
Serve plain or coated with melted good quality Belgium chocolate.