Monday, 6 December 2010

Festive Speculoos in celebration of St Nicholas

Way back when (so long ago I don't care to work it out exactly...), I spent an amazing 6 months living and working in Brussels. Now whilst I'm not a huge fan of typical Belgian cuisine (apart from those frites...they are mighty fine), on account of most traditional dishes being meat based, I do have ultimate adoration for their strong tasty beers, a piping hot waffle on a cold winter's evening, fine chocolates to die for and the simple biscuit which is the 'speculoos'.

Speculoos are spiced, crunchy biscuits originating in Belgium, Holland and (by some reports) Northern France. I came to know them when I lived in Belgium, not only do they accompany every cup of coffee you buy, they are traditionally made and given to children on the St Nicholas (6th December in Belgium). I remember fondly watching children run out into the street to greet St Nicholas as he passed on his sleigh handing out festive shaped speculoos, as excited as any child here in England on Christmas Eve.

Since then, the 6th December is a date that has always stuck in my mind and I've often spent a few days back in Brussels visiting friends and enjoying the Christmas Markets around this time. It's such a magical place to be in December with the markets on and around the Grand Place, the beautiful decorations and lights in Sablon and the best Christmas decoration shop I have ever been to in my entire life (worth a trip over there alone!).

So with the festive spirit in the air and whilst reminiscing about the good times, I decided this morning that it was about time I had a crack at making speculoos... There are many recipes out there which claim to be 'THE' recipe, but I settled on this recipe which I've translated into English and adapted slightly below.

Traditionally speculoos are made with 'cassonade' which is an unrefined dark moist sugar. The darkest sugar I had to hand was Billingtons molasses sugar which seemed to me to fit the bill nicely.


350g flour
250g butter (at room temperature)
250g dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
1 egg


Beat the butter, sugar and spices together until they form a thick paste. Add the egg and beat again until combined. Then sift in the flour and baking powder a little at a time and mix until you have a soft dough.

Split the mixture in half, wrap each ball of dough in cling film and pop into the fridge. the original recipe says for 12 hours, but those were 12 hours I didn't have to spare, so I just left mine for an hour or so.

Roll the dough out until it is about 3mm-4mm thick. As the dough is sticky (and to avoid using more flour), this might best be done between baking parchment or cling film.

Cut into rectangles or festive shapes and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for around 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then enjoy (with or without children!).

Something more important than food? Surely not...?!

For what seems like forever, food has been the one thing that has consumed my thoughts, both day and night. As a small child I was once known to have thrown the table over when the nursery teacher didn't feed me fast enough. Then, when my ability to express my love of food became a little more refined, I would regularly (OK, probably daily) ask what was for lunch and dinner before I'd even started on breakfast. I've spent days, weekends, whole weeks just cooking, reading cook books, creating new recipes, blogging about food and most importantly feeding people.

Then a certain someone came along at the end of August this year who takes up pretty much my every waking second. So much so that I can't remember the last time I dipped into one of my favourite cook books! Baby GG (as he's affectionately referred to on twitter...) has now of course pipped 'food' to the top of the list of things I love...

At first I honestly wasn't sure I'd ever sit down to eat a meal again, let alone cook one, but as time has gone on I am managing to find a little time to cook again. And what better time with Christmas approaching - I might not have managed Christmas cakes this year, but mince pies are definitely on the baking menu next weekend!