I was a Rotary exchange student to the Netherlands many years ago so I experienced a Sinterklaas celebration first hand. We watched Sint Nicolaas (also known as Sinterklaas) arrive from Spain by steamship on TV. We left our shoes out at night filled with carrots for Sinterklaas's horse and were rewarded with candies and chocolates in exchange. We received chocolate letters and ate speculaas, and pepernoten. We wrote poems teasing the person who was receiving the gift and exchanged presents secret Santa style with others in the family. We sang Sinterklaas songs, one of which, over 35 years later, I can still sing the chorus to:
gooi wat in mijn schoentje,
gooi wat in mijn laarsje,
dank u Sinterklaasje.
One of the things I brought home from the Netherlands was a speculaasplank - the wooden board with cut-out molds that you press the cookie dough into. I have had it on display in various places around our homes all these years, but I have never actually used it for baking. So I was keen to try it out.
I actually made these cookies twice because the first recipe tasted good, but was too crumbly and dry and they didn't look good. I then found this blog and make his recipe (with a few modifications) and the texture was perfect. It molded nicely into the speculaasplank and then held together when I unmolded the cookies and kept the design fairly well while being baked.
I want you to look closely at the plank and tell me what on earth those designs are. I recognize the windmill, but apart from that I have no idea. Is that a Sinterklaas fire hydrant? Are those mutant chickens? cats? cat-chickens?
The most intriguing thing about Speculaas cookies is that they contain pepper. I had no idea they did. While you can taste it if you know it is there, it mostly just adds to the tangy spiciness of the cookies.
1 cup cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1. Cut the butter into small cubes and blend with the sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices.
2. Add the eggs and vanilla.
3. Add the flour and beat until mixed.
4. Roll out half the cookie dough to a 1/2 inch thickness. Lightly spray the Speculaasplank and dust with flour (knocking any loose flour out before using). Press the dough into the plank and then carefully unmold onto the ungreased baking sheet. If using cookie cutters then roll the dough out to be 1/4 inch thick, cut with cookie cutters, and place on the baking sheet.
5. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes or until golden around the edges. Let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Mmmm! Enjoy that spicy crispness of these speculaas and think of wooden shoes and windmills.
Linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm