Monday, August 12, 2013

A Visit to Bruges - Part II (Speculoos)


This is part II of my Bruges mini-series and this post is all about that famous Speculoos in Flemish and Speculaas in Dutch, whichever way you pronounce it, these buttery, short crust cookies that are related to the gingerbread family of cookies, are replete with warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves. They continue to be a Flemish and Dutch favorite that has captured the fancy of cookie lovers all over the world.




While we visited Bruges a few days ago, we marveled not only at unbelievably delicious local foods and chocolates but we were also lucky enough to sample a variety of these iconic cookies that often come in the shape of picturesque windmills - when we returned home,  I tried to re-create these lovely cookies using some of the specialty wooden molds from my collection.



This mold depicts a lovely rose and was given to me a few years ago - it is from an antique store in Bavaria.




This one was made from a different type of wood and it depicts a bearded fellow...




... when you look closely you can see that the depth of the carvings differs from mold to mold. As a general rule, the more detail there is, the clearer the outlines of the final cookies will be - although it also depends on the kind of recipe that you use for your cookies and whether the dough was chilled properly.




If you are a fan of what is possibly Belgium´s favorite cookie and of all things cookie and speculoos-related, Bruges is the place to visit. Speculoos cookies are actually sold in the US by a famous Begian company as Biscoff cookies.




When you are in Bruges, speculoos cookies are sold at every bakery and some specialty baking shops also carry the traditional wooden baking molds to make these wonderful cookies at home.




One of the most famous bakeries where the speculoos cookies are sold is Juliette´s, a bakery run by cookie expert and shop owner Brenda Keirsebilck.




In her iconic, artisanal shop that emanates mouth-watering wafts of almond, sugar, spice and really everything nice, you can find many delicious and decadent treats such as the custom made speculoos - this one features the Belfry of Bruges, the medieval bell tower in the historical centre of Bruges, it is one of the city's most prominent symbols. But there are also birthday and graduation wish hearts, baked invitations and depending on the season, Saint Nicholas´or Easter bunnies.




Or these meringues with different flavors such as “Natuur” (plain) or…




…or “Cocos” (coconut) and “Pistache and Rozenwater” (pistachio and rosewater)…




…or “Mojito”…




…or "Koffie met Hazelnoot" (coffee and hazelnut) and "Nougat" (nougat)...




…or those lovely meringues that are pink-hued and  “Cuberdon-flavored”. Cuberdons are raspberry-flavored and purple, though more recently differently colored variants have been available as well. The outside is relatively hard, whereas the inside is gelatinous. Cuberdons can only be kept for about three weeks, after that the inside begins to crystallize. That is the reason why cuberdons are not exported outside of Belgium - they are considered to be a regional Belgian product.




Speculoos used to be Christmas-time only cookies, but in the last couple of years, there has been a real rebirth regarding these special cookies. Brenda Keirseblick is also the author of “Juliette’s Speculoos: Recipes from Bruges’ most charming biscuit bakery”.




You can sample not only those lovely and delicate meringues but also cupcakes with various toppings, giant cookies and squares of speculoos with delicious, marzipan-filled centers, some dipped in chocolate, others flecked with toasted almond slivers, the combinations are absolutely delightful. I really liked these "Hasseltse zachte Speculoos" - soft speculoos that take their name from "Hasselt", a Belgian city and capital of the Flemish province of Limburg.




There is even an on-site made speculoos spread (also known as "speculoos or biscoof pasta or spread") that is delicious on hot buttered toast or wonderful for baking cookies, cupcakes or cakes.




And last but not least, you can also buy the most tender of "Nougat" (nougat) at Juliette`s.




In order to re-create a bit of the charm of this lovely artisinal bakery at home, I tried out a few recipes for Speculoos, with and without almonds, with more or less generous amounts of spices and finally settled on this spicy version - the smell that eminates from the kitchen while these are baking is nothing short of wonderful - even in August warm spices have a certain magic to them.




Speculoos Cookies

Ingredients for the cookies
  • 250 grams white spelt flour (you can substitute wheat flour/AP flour instead)
  • 2 tsp freshly ground ginger
  • ¾ tsp freshly ground cloves
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½  tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 110 grams unsalted butter
  • 85 grams soft brown sugar (you can use soft light or dark brown sugar)
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (S), organic or free range whenever possible
  • 60 ml clear honey 
  • 1 tbsp molasses



Preparation of the Cookies
  1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, spices, salt and baking soda.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla sugar and continue to beat until soft and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg and mix well.
  4. Then add the honey and molasses.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the butter and mix until you have a smooth dough - it will be soft.
  6. Wrap the dough in saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  7. The following day, preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Take slices of the chilled dough and place on a lightly floured surface.
  9. Roll out to around 1 1/2cm thick, then dust the top lightly with flour and press the molds into the dough - or use cookie cutters to cut out your favorite shapes.
  10. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets.
  11. Bake the cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are just golden at the edges (you may need more or less time depending on the size of your cookies).
  12. When baked, allow the speculoos to cool for a minute or so and  then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.



This is just one recipe for Speculoos - there are countless other ones, dark ones, lemon ones, vanilla ones, with or without almonds, the possibilities and the recipes seem to be endless but no matter which recipe you try, now or later during the year, Speculoos cookies are always delicious and pretty and worth the bit of extra work.




Let me be honest, it does take a bit of practice to work with these specialty molds and it is a tad time consuming...




...but definitely worth it (once in a while) and no matter which recipe you try, you should always make sure to use the freshest of spices you can. And as I already mentioned above, if you cannot find or own these specialty wooden cookie molds, you can also use cookie cutters or even a cookie press - speculoos cookies will always taste heavenly no matter what shape they are!



41 comments:

  1. Okay, so I'm getting a ticket to Belgium! Now you've totally sold me Andrea. Looking at you pictures the other day got me really intrigued but now with these cookies ............ Let's just say I would probably eat my weight in them. Your molds are just adorable, I'll be keeping my eye out for them in antique and consignment shops, you never know! :) If I find some I'll skip and jump for joy!!!!

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    1. Chris, I really appreciate your enthusiasm - how wonderful that you like these cookies as much as I do or rather we do. They look so very pretty and taste even better and using the wooen specialty molds to make your own speculoos cookies is just plain fun!

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  2. I love all your molds. I'm sure it does take a lot of practice to have cookies as pretty as yours turned out...they are lovely.

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    1. Karen, well, it takes a bit of practice and some frustration - for some reason the recipes always sounded good but the cookies were not pretty - so a bit of trial and error and then I was all set. Thank you for the nice ecomment!

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  3. (This is version 2 - I had to delete my first one when I saw how many typographical errors I had made - forgive me.)

    What a glorious article! I love those cookies, and the molds are really beautiful. I have never made Speculoos, but I always say I am going to get a couple of molds and give it a go.

    About that shop - it looks like heaven on earth. What a wonderful collection of beautiful treats, and they are all so beautifully displayed. We need a shop like that in Los Angeles.

    Thank for the tour! I'm an armchair traveler, and I love things like this.

    August 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM

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    1. Adri, you are very kind, my dear - these cookies seemed to be a bit of a project and have kept me busy for the last couple of days but I am reasonably happy with they way they turned out. This shop is one that I went looking for while in Bruges - since I had done quite a bit of "research" into all things food before leaving, I knew I had to find this store and taste and look and buy and take pictures - it is a dreamy little place with smiling salespersons and tons of heavenly treats.

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  4. Andrea, your writing is so lovely. I enjoy reading your post so much.

    Speculoos are a wild craze here in the States. We have a foodie grocery store line called Trader Joe's and they have a Speculoos cookie butter. They took the cookies, grind them up with butter and put them into a jar like Nutella. Unbelievable!

    Your molds are so so cute. And I love your recipe - gotta make a batch with Daisy this coming w/end.
    xo

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    1. Colette, thank you very much for the comment - the Cookie Butter that Trader Joe´s sells is fashioned after the Speculoos Pasta Spread from that Belgian company called Lotus - while we find the Lotus brand in EU, you can buy the Trader Joe´s in the US. It is fantastic for baking cookies and muffins - I even blogged about this Spread twice already - you are quite right, it is delicious.

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  5. Mojito meringues, that's awesome. I liked Bruges a lot when I visited, and will always remember as the place where I had the best chevre ever. Gorgeous recipe for speculoos Andrea! I'm pinning it right now.

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    1. Paula, that´s what I thought...meringues with different kinds of flavors are quite special. I had never seen them somewhere else aand they look quite pretty in these big glass jars. Bruges seems to be a "must see" place when travelling in Belgium, no doubt about that!

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  6. Andrea, thanks so much for posting this recipe. I always wanted to make speculoos as I have heard so much about them. I love the moulds they are so pretty!

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    1. Karen, do not be surprised if this cookie dough is not the easiest to work with - it is sticky but if you place it in the fridge overnight and make sure to keep the cookie dough "cool" at all times and remember to flour your work surface really well (if you use cutters), you should be fine. Let me know if you get a chance to make them how they turned out, please.

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  7. I'll definitely try these Andrea, I've always wanted to bake speculoos, yours look brilliant. You must have had such a wonderful time there, your photo's look lovely.

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    1. Laura, as I said to Karen, zhe dough tends to be sticky (otherwise these molds do not work) and if you roll it out to use it with cookie cutters, make sure to keep the dough chilled and flour your work surface really well. Let me know if you liked the recipe if you have a chance to make these, thanks!

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  8. A beautiful post Andrea! Your speculoos look perfect, like store bought!! You did an amazing job girl! :) Many thanks for leaving such a sweet note on my cherry pie post, you're a true sweetheart :)
    xox and a wonderful afternoon dear
    Amy

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    1. Amy, thank you very much for the lovely comment - you are quite welcome with respect to the comment I left - but do not thank me, please, I love leaving comments on your blog!

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  9. I love speculoos with my coffee, Andrea. Your biscuits are so pretty. I love the wooden molds you chose. I also love the story your photos tell! Bruges is on my list of places to visit in the near future and you have really whet my appetite (for biscuits and for travel!)

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    1. Herster, hopefully you will get a chance to visit Bruge soon - you will certainly have a wonderful time there if and when you go.

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  10. I have only ever had the store bought speculaas, and would love to get some molds to try them at home. Yours look so beautiful and I enjoyed the virtual tour of Juliette's so that we could see all the wonderful things she offers, including the nougat. I love good nougat and haven't had it since I was last in Paris over a decade ago. Now I will be searching everywhere for antique speculaas molds! :) ~ David

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    1. David, if you are interested in these molds - I will gladly send you one in the mail - let me know - I know they can be a bit difficult to find in the US. Maybe I should just shio a boy full of these molds and then you will be in charge of the US distribution. Thank you so much for all your very nice comments, David!

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    2. Okay, I have had my first attempt. Not sure what I did wrong, but I will keep trying. Your cookies look much thinner than mine - so perhaps they are simply too thick? Thanks for all your help and guidance... und, natürlich für die Formen! ~ David

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    3. My dear David, you cannot say that I did not "warn" you...those lovely speculoos cookies can be somewhat tricky...my family was ready to move out of the house when I made them for the first and second and third time...finally, after much trials and errors the recipe worked out fine and my lovely family decided to stay!

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  11. --you know what?
    I think heaven will be like this...
    Overflowing with sweet-lush-colorful jars of cookies and chocolates and lovely meringues!

    xx

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    1. Kim, hope your are right - that would be too nice!

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  12. Another beautiful post. I have had replicas of those cookies (but I imagine they are poor imitations of the real deal). I wish I could have one now with my afternoon tea (instead I'm eating a boring granola bar). Your pictures will have to carry me over!

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    1. Monet, thank you for the sweet comment - these cookies are widely available (especially arpund Christmas time) from various manufacturers but nothing quite beats the taste of homemade speculoos - besides it is quite special to make them yourself using these wooden molds.

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  13. Your cookies are spectacular...I love the molds!!!! And now I have a huge craving for a spice cookie :)

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    1. Liz, thank you, these smell awesome while baking and the certain sharpness that they have from the freshly ground spices is hard to beat! It is a treat any time of year if I may say so.

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  14. Such a lovely post, Andrea! Your speculoos are gorgeous, and I love your wonderful molds. I have a few that I picked up when we were in Holland. I can’t wait to give your recipe a try.

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    1. Kathy, maybe you will have the time to bake thes elovely speculoos one day - do let me know if you do get a chance to make these and whether you like the recipe!

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  15. fantastic carvings on wood,so lovely and all those cookies...they look so tempting especially the spicy speculoos,thanks so much for making all of us travel to Bruges virtually,it is a pleasure...you have a wonderful blog...it is always fun to go through all the recipes and snaps...HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY!!! :-)

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    1. Kumars, you areaso very kind - how nice to read that you enjoy my virtual tours and my recipes - thank you very much!

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  16. Those cookie molds are so beautiful and the art of work is amazing! Europe has long history just like Japan and I miss that part of culture. The cookies look so good, I need a cup of tea to enjoy these. :)

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    1. Nami, you are such a darling - Europe does have a long history and the "food history" seems to be a never ending source of inspiration! How fortunate we are to be a part of that history!

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  17. Just mouthwatering…looks delicious!

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  18. It is 9 AM and I want a cookie! I want to visit the cookie shop and sample plenty! Yummy.

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    1. Cindy, you would go in that shop, stare at everything, sample everything and buy way too many cookies - that is what I did and would do again! Thanks for the lovely comment!

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  19. Hi, where can I find a speculoos mold with 6 figures like the one in your blog? I love your speculoos!!

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    1. Dear Alessandro, how nice that you like these speculoos - this particular baking mold is a vintage mold that I received as a gift years ago. There are many difeerent places that you can get swooden peculoos molds at. But depends a bit on where you live - since I do not know whether you live in EU or in the States, you will wait for your reply to send you a bunch of sources fromwoodcarvers in Germany to commercial ones!
      Have a nice day and maybe you could contact me again via this comment section, on FB, or via mail: andrea@thekitchenlioness.de.

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  20. Hi, I live in Belgium and I'm interested in buying an antique wooden mold. Any suggestions on where to find them? In Bruges or Brussels or elsewhere? Any websites or store info would be appreciated.

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