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Speculoos & Cookbooks for Gifting

Speculoos | Delightful CrumbHello friends, and merry Christmastime! We are in the season of festivity, and I am loving it, as I am wont to do, from baking cookies to shopping for gifts to catching up with friends over drinks. And every day as I work, tucked between my space heater and little twinkling Christmas tree, I am grateful for the extra bit of cheer.

I’m popping by today with a list of favorite cookbooks that would make for mighty fine gifts, plus a cookie recipe that would serve you as either a gift or a treat for well-deserving you.

First, the cookbooks! My list is limited to cookbooks published this year, as I needed some sort of criteria to reign myself in, and have chosen only 10. There are many more that could have made the list, of course, including some I’m hoping Santa will bring to me, but hopefully this gives someone out there an idea or two. As a baseline, these all have the essentials: a strong and encouraging voice, well-tested recipes and good design.

Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh: For the baking enthusiast, or Ottolenghi enthusiast, in your life.

Dining In, by Allison Roman: For your fun sister-in-law who likes such things as red nail polish, witty writing, savory breakfasts, lemons and fresh kitchen inspiration.

Six Seasons, by Joshua McFadden: For the produce lover who makes it to the market rain or shine.

Cherry Bombe: The Cookbookby Kerry Diamond: For all the badass ladies you know. Toss in a subscription to the magazine to really take it over the top.

Salt Fat Acid Heat, by Samin Nosrat: For a cook of any skill level who wants to understand exactly how things work (plus illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton!).

Tartine All Dayby Elisabeth Prueitt: For the gluten-free pal you are always forgetting is gluten intolerant, or for anyone who loves fresh California fare.

Feed the Resistanceby Julia Turshen: For the activist who’s always gathering friends around her table.

Dinner: Changing the Gameby Melissa Clark: For the parents who need some encouragement in the daily grind of dinner.

Brave Tart, by Stella Parks: For the baker who loves Americana.

Short Stack Editions (fun little cookbooks organized around an ingredient): For hosts or coworkers, or for that stocking you’re stuffing. Dorie Greenspan has written a new one on butter; I have no doubt it’s amazing.

And now, holiday treats, from the first cookbook on my list. I’m well past my Ottolenghi blogging quota for this quarter, but apparently I don’t care…

Speculoos (or speculaas) cookies are common in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. They are thin and crunchy, made with a blend of warm spices and typically stamped with an image on the front. I encountered them first in West Michigan, where packaged windmill cookies are easy to find even at the big grocery chains. My Dutch friends were enthusiastic about them, but I didn’t quite understand the hype. Out here in the Bay Area, though, I met Evy Ballegeer, who owns the speculoos cookie business Little Belgians. Her cookies are cute, crisp and delicious, and she is a lovely human. I loved her and those cookies immediately. So did Ben. As someone of Dutch descent, he did have a soft spot for the packaged windmills, and Evy’s rendition is even better.

I’ve long wanted to revive some Dutch recipes for our yearly Christmas cookie rotation (my family is big on tradition, so my side is sufficiently covered in this regard). This became especially true after I was charmed by the Netherlands on our vacation this summer. So when I saw Ottolenghi’s recipe for speculoos biscuits in his new cookbook, Sweet, I knew they’d have to make it to the table this season. They’re delicious with a cup of coffee or your evening tea, and I bet they’d be lovely next to ice cream, too, as the recipe headnote suggests.

(Alternately, if you don’t feel like baking, just order cookies from Evy! They are fantastic, and she even makes a striking, 10 inch-tall Saint Nick for the holidays.)

May you and yours be cozy, safe and full of joy this holiday season.

Simple Speculoos Biscuits

From Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s Sweet

Note that instead of making the spice mix, you can buy it at certain well-stocked stores. But if you can get all of the spices and spare a little time, this will serve you for a few batches of cookies. Save what’s left from this recipe in a tightly sealed container.

You can make this dough ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to bake, or you can make half while freezing the rest for your future self.

Makes about 60 to 70 cookies

FOR THE SPICE MIX

Mix together:

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground aniseed

3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

FOR THE COOKIES

3 2/3 cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons spice mix (recipe above)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (250 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 3/4 packed cups (330 grams) dark brown sugar

3 1/2 tablespoons (50 ml) dark rum or brandy

1 large egg white, lightly beaten until frothy

1 cup (100 grams) sliced almonds

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, spice mix, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the rum or brandy and beat until inforporated. Add the dry ingredients and continue to beat on low speed. The dough will likely be difficult and dry, but it will come together eventually.

Tip the dough onto a clean work surface and knead lightly to bring together. Divide into two pieces, cover each loosely with plastic wrap, then press down to form flat disks. Transfer to the fridge for about 30 minutes. You can also freeze the dough at this point.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it’s just under 1/2 inch (0.5 cm) thick. Using a 2 1/2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter (or whatever size and shape you like), cut out biscuits and move them to the baking sheets, with a little over a half inch between cookies. Reroll the scraps to cut more biscuits. When the baking sheets are full, use a pastry brush to lightly paint a thin layer of egg white over each biscuit, then sprinkle with the sliced almonds. You may need to repeat this with additional baking sheets, depending on the size of your pans and the cookies.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the sheets once, until the cookies are deep golden brown and the almonds toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes on the baking sheets for the biscuits to cool slightly, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

In an airtight container, the cookies should keep for about a week.

2 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Fun stuff, Stacy. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about some new cookbooks. I’m personally excited about OY’s baking book, especially because it contains a recipe for mini cakes and I recently bought 2 new mini bundt pans from IKEA. I had seen Cherry Bomb at an independent bookseller in Ann Arbor but never realized it was such a movement. WOW. Merry Christmas to you and Ben!

    • Yes, so many cute little cakes in that cookbook! Sounds like you’re well prepared. From what I know of your taste, I think you’ll love it, too.

      Cherry Bombe hosted its first West Coast conference in SF this fall – such a powerful gathering of women in food. I’m a fan. (:

      Merry Christmas to you & your family! Hope it’s a joyful season.