We first came across Speculoos (or Speculaas, Spekulatius) when we were in Northern France and Belgium earlier this year. Not only were they addictive, but the crumb was used in plenty of other dishes – from cheesecakes to Carbonnade – the Belgian meat stew. In the supermarkets, you can even buy a Speculoos spread. No, I didn’t try it. Apparently, it’s available here now too – and in the US. Cookie butter, it seems, is a thing.

The biscuits are thin, crunchy, and usually flavoured with spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, ginger and anise – all exotics that were available in the 17th and 18th century due to the Dutch East Indies trade.

They were traditionally baked in Belgium and the Netherlands for St Nicholas’ Day (December 5), and in Germany and Austria around Christmas, but you can buy them all year round these days.

Being Christmas we decorated ours with icing and little silver balls, but traditionally these are made using fabulously intricate folk arty moulds – most likely one that would have an image or a story about St Nicholas – that has probably been handed down for generations. I wish now that I’d brought some of those wooden moulds home.

This recipe is one that I’ve adapted from The Sugarologist…

What you need…

  • 250g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • zest of one orange (finely grated)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt flakes
  • 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise (if you can get it…if not, don’t worry)
  • pinch of white pepper

What you do with it…

  • Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between. Add the vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, orange zest, salt and spices and fork through to mix
  • Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low until it’s all well combined and a ball of dough has formed. Take care though not to overmix.
  • Turn the dough out onto a board and divide it into 4 balls, wrapping each in cling film and putting in the fridge to rest for an hour or so. This allows the dough to settle, but also the spices to permeate.
  • While the dough is doing its thing in the fridge, preheat the oven to 180C (160C if fan-forced) and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  • Once the dough is rested, dust your surface with flour and roll the dough out thinly – to a few mm – and cut into the desired shapes. As long as everything is well floured the shapes shouldn’t stick to your bench. I find it easy to cut them out and place them on the baking tray as I go.
  • Chill the biscuits on their trays in the fridge for another 15 minutes or so and then place into the oven and cook for 15 minutes – or until just coloured.
  • Let them sit on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack with a spatula.
  • Once cool go to town with the icing and silver balls!

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