Speculaas

Since I first made these a few years ago they have become my favorite Christmas cookie — richly spicy, crunchy, not too sweet, satisfying but not heavy. The Dutch traditionally make them for St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6, and there are as many recipes are there are Dutch grandmothers. Each has its own blend of spices; some call for brandy instead of rum, some omit the almonds, and some include lemon or orange zest. This blend comes from The Dutch Baker’s Daughter, who says that the basic ingredients and proportions date the the 15th century. It seems plausible to me.

You, however, should feel free to substitute or experiment as you like. And don’t be put off by the long recipe — these really are quite easy to make.

    • about 1½ cups almonds (raw, blanched, or roasted, but not salted)

    Grind to a meal in a food processor. A few visible crunchy bits are fine. Measure out a cup of the almond meal.

    • 2 cups flour
    • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon cloves
    • ½ teaspoon white pepper
    • ½ teaspoon ginger
    • ½ teaspoon cardamom
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda

    Whisk together in a large bowl.

    • ½ pound (2 sticks) butter
    • 1½ cups dark brown sugar

    Cream together in a second bowl until light.

    • 1 egg
    • 1 tablespoon dark rum

    Beat into the butter-sugar mixture.

  1. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. It will take a minute before the mixture comes together as a dough.

  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about ⅛ inch thick, then cut into shapes. (I make rectangles or diamonds. A pizza wheel is perfect for this.) If the dough is too sticky to work, you may want to chill it for a couple of hours first. Lay the cut-outs on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

    • sliced or slivered almonds for decoration

    Arrange the almonds on the cut-outs, pressing them in lightly

    • 1 egg white

    Beat the egg white just enough to combine it and break the gel, then brush lightly onto the cookies to glaze them.

  3. Bake at 375°F (350° in a convection oven) for 10–12 minutes, until they are set around the edges but soft in the middle. They will crisp up as they cool. Cool on racks: I find it easiest to slide the parchment paper off the sheets onto the racks and let them cool on the paper.