Now that Halloween is over, my thoughts start turning to Christmas – and, more specifically, Christmas food. My husband and I are hosting Christmas at our house this year so there’s lots of food planning ahead. Perhaps slightly weirdly, I kind of like planning and spreadsheets so am really looking forward to it (and it gives me a good excuse to pore through lots of cookery books looking for suitable recipes).
One of my favourite parts of Christmas cooking is the baking. Anything involving chocolate is good of course, but I’m also a big fan of spices. I love the warming smell of ginger and cinnamon coming from the oven; it’s just so, well, Christmassy. As the temperature drops and the days get shorter, I’m also partial to washing down a big sticky slice of gingerbread (the cake type) with a glass of mulled wine. I can’t get enough festive spice.
As we’re now creeping towards the Christmas baking season, I thought it would be a good time to play around with a pack of vandotsch speculaas spice mix that Steven Dotsch of The Speculaas Spice Company recently sent me. You may have come across the name of speculaas (or speculoos) biscuits before; the little caramel biscuits in a wrapper that come free with a cup of tea or coffee are inspired by these spices, though they don’t actually contain the full mix. The traditional (and better tasting) genuine Dutch version is often in the shape of a windmill or rolled out with a special rolling pin that imprints a design on the biscuits as it rolls.
I decided biscuits would be the perfect testing ground for the spices. They make a lovely festive gift for anyone you’re seeing over Christmas and are quick to make if you’re being a bit last minute! There are very few people who won’t be grateful for a batch of home-baked goodies.
The scent of the vandotsch speculaas mix when I opened the packet was deliciously pungent. It’s completely organic and contains 9 spices; some are secret, some are not. There’s cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and then a mystery mix of 6 other spices. Whatever is in the secret mix, it made my kitchen smell pretty amazing when I came back downstairs to check on my baking.
The biscuits are made with rye flour as I really like its earthiness, plus many people who can’t eat wheat are okay with rye. Using coconut sugar adds a nice caramel element. If you’re feeling extra-decadent you could drizzle some melted dark chocolate over the top of the biscuits or drop a handful of chopped up chocolate into the mix (I tried cacao nibs too, but they were a little bitter). Although the biscuits are sweet, they’re also really good with cheese and chutney. I’ll definitely be cooking up a few batches for our Christmas visitors.
I’m looking forward to more speculaas experiments over the next few weeks. I think I can feel a sticky gingerbread coming on…
Festive rye speculaas biscuits
Makes 20 (using medium-sized cookie cutter)
100g butter, at room temperature
70g coconut sugar
1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract
200g rye flour, ideally stoneground
2½ tsp vandotsch speculaas spice mix (you can also use mixed spice)
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp himalayan pink salt
1. Preheat your oven to 160°C (140°C for fan ovens). Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat again.
3. Add the rye flour, speculaas spice, lemon zest, baking soda and salt, and stir until combined. You may find it easier to bring the mixture together with your hand. Shape the mixture into a disk, cover in cling film and pop in the fridge for 30-45 minutes.
4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface (I used rice flour) so that it’s 1-2 cm thick. Using a 10cm cookie cutter, cut out circles. Gently press any leftover dough back together and roll again to cut out shapes until all the dough is used.
5. Place the circles on the lined baking trays and put into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the biscuits are lightly golden around the edges.
6. Remove from the oven and leave the biscuits to cool on the trays for a few minutes. Take the biscuits off the trays and leave on a wire rack to cool.
The biscuits will keep in airtight container for 3-5 days.
Options for variations:
– add a handful of chopped dark or white chocolate
– switch lemon zest for orange or clementine zest
– dip cookies in melted dark chocolate
– stir through some finely chopped crystallised ginger
– add chopped cranberries for an extra festive touch