The countdown to Rata’s birthday has begun. The bake-a-thon has commenced. Anything that will keep for a week in the tin was on my list of tasks for this week, and that meant I was to try my hand at speculaas, the Dutch Christmas biscuit that is so very moreish.
Yes, yes, I’m going to rabbit on about Ladies, A Plate once again. Alexa Johnston’s recipe is a variation on the biscuit, where you roll out the biscuit dough and sandwich between it a layer of almond paste. The top is dotted with blanched almonds, then after it cools it is cut into squares (or diamonds). It looks exquisite and tastes even better.
Never one to cut corners in cooking, I purchased whole almonds and blanched and ground them myself. It was worth it for all the fiddling about rubbing their skins off while my fingers began to look like prunes. It may have also been worth it to break the food processor component of my stick blender (it screwed the gears in the lid somehow – fortunately the stick blender itself and the whisk still work, and now there is less clutter on the bench). The taste of those ground almonds is amazing. You don’t need almond essence – in my opinion the most offensive ingredient on the planet – as it tastes like marzipan as it is, au naturel. The recipe listed this ingredient as optional anyway, but suggested also rose or orange blossom water. I opted for the latter.
The speculaas dough itself was unusual in that you prepare it like pastry or a scone, rubbing the butter into the flour and spices. I used two and and half eggs to bind it, a lot more than the one required by the recipe but they were admittedly small eggs. The dough still seemed dry, but a good knead saw to that. Next time I make this (there will be one) I might try creaming the butter with the sugar and then sifting in the dry ingredients like I would with belgium biscuits.
Another mention should be made of the speculaas spices – a blend of cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, nutmeg, clove and white pepper. I’ve never grated so much nutmeg all at once. I also learned that star anise and aniseed are the same thing. Fancy that! The recipe is as follows:
3oz/6 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1oz/2 Tbsp ground nutmeg
1oz/2 Tbsp ground cloves
1oz/2 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2oz /1 Tbsp ground aniseed
1/4oz/1 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
(from this combination you use 4 tsp in the biscuit mix)
Trick number one was to roll the dough out into a square. I managed. Well, sort of. This was my third attempt, where I didn’t have to nudge it back with my fingers and roll it flat. I am going to assume that one is not expected to roll a square square. We need to be left with trimmings to nibble on, especially if the baking is to taunt us from the cake tins for ten days…
Then there was the trick of rolling out the second layer of biscuit and flipping it onto the top of the slice. Easy. I cheated with the almond paste, though, and cut it into pieces with the fish slice. It was far to sticky to lift in one piece, and easily joined back up on site with the help of eight clean fingertips.
Part of what took so long was that a wee trip to the supermarket was required for caster sugar. It also involved a detour to the op-shop, where a lot of fabric was purchased. I was even allowed out the back to check out the boxes of fabric waiting for their chance to shine! A very exciting day indeed. But I also finally purchased a pastry brush. I don’t know what had stopped me before: it was $1.89. (To be fair, most of my previous pastry brushes had suffered at the hands of neglectful flatmates and been discarded.)
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is what met me at the other end of a 30 minute cooking time. It smelt HEAVENLY. Louis and his mum transferred it to the cake rack with three fish slices and my whipping the tray out as they lifted it. Louis then went on to proclaim that the biscuits were ‘incredibly delicious, but I don’t feel as excited about them today as I did when you first made them – perhaps because they haven’t kept as well as they could’ (a quote given in exchange for a biscuit, since I had forgotten the specifics of his original proclamations). On the day I made them, he went so far as to say that they may even be better than his auntie’s Basler Lackerli but we would have to do a direct comparison with both cookies present. This is a typical Louis critique, by the way. He then decided that my speculaas spice mix needed more ginger in it, and the biscuits could do with more spice.
I’m pretty stoked with how they turned out, particularly after the limited success of the brandy snaps. They are taunting us all from the top of the fridge, but we are resolute in not eating them: these biscuits deserve the full show-off treatment of a party-party good-time.
(Rata’s birthday is really all about my baking)