Speculoos are spice cookies with origins in the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). They are traditionally molded into beautiful and charming Northern European symbols with Springerle molds. If you don’t have Springerle molds on hand, the dough is more than amenable for standard cookie cutters. The cookies are distinctly Northern European with a traditionally mild spice palate and a long shelf life suitable for austere climates.
These cookies are time consuming and to me, they should be memorable and spicy! But every recipe I found was far too light on the spice. Eventually, I found a base recipe from a Martha Stewart magazine and worked from there. First, I followed the recipe verbatim. Instead of Springerle molds, I used cookie stamps which I have used successfully for Scandinavian butter cookies. The texture was fantastic but the taste was somewhat like a grocery store graham cracker. And worst of all, the cookie design from the cookie stamp faded in the baking process (I think because of the low fat content). Second try–same base recipe but I added two tablespoons of ground chai tea and one teaspoon of ground allspice and switched the cookie stamps out for rolling the dough out and simply cutting it with a scalloped pastry roller. My pastry roller is actually an old tool from a Play-Do set which I loved as a little girl!
The second try was slightly zippier but still not worth the 2 plus hours of preparation. I was not deterred. The final version is the recipe below and includes a nearly astonishing amount of spices, candied ginger, molasses and a lemon glaze to bring out the spice. The spiciness of these Speculoos are anything but forgettable and will linger on your palate between each bite.
3.5 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T ground cinnamon
3 T chai tea mix
1 tsp ground cloves
2 T ground allspice
3-4 pieces of candied ginger, when ground, should equal around 1 tablespoon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1-2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the cookies…
1) You will need a spice grinder to make the spice combination. Place the candied ginger pieces in the freezer for at least ten minutes, or until frozen. While the ginger is freezing, place the chai mix, cloves and allspice in the spice grinder. Pulse until the allspice is the coarseness of freshly ground pepper. Empty into a small bowl and mix in ground cinnamon. Remove the ginger from the freezer and put it in the spice grinder. Pulse until the size of coarse kosher salt granules. Mix into spice mixture.
2) Whisk to combine flour, baking soda, salt and spice mixture in a bowl. Set aside.
3) In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes depending on your mixer. Beat in half of flour mixture until combined. Beat in water, then remaining flour mixture until combined. The dough will be dry so add more water if you need to–but make sure not to add too much. Divide dough into fourths and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
4) You have the choice in this step to use Springerle molds, cookie cutters or a simple pastry roller or knife. Regardless of how you do it, make sure dough is rolled out to about 1/4 inch thick. Place the cutouts on cookie sheets and refrigerate for 1 hour.
5) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Put cookie sheets in oven and immediately lower the temperature to 250 degrees F. Bake cookies, rotating cookie sheets halfway through from 55 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. They’re done when they are firm and slightly golden brown on the edges. Let cool on wire racks.
6) Prepare glaze by mixing 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 to 2 T of lemon juice so that it is wet. Brush cookies with glaze and let dry. You can sprinkle the (still wet) glazed cookies with lemon zest of ground up candied ginger for extra zest.