It was many years ago that the airlines began to cut expenses by throwing their bored passengers only a small bag of peanuts or pretzels to tame their hunger. But, once on a Delta flight I got a different type of snack. Ripping open the package I found two small cookies inside, and told Phil: “We don’t even deserve pretzels anymore, look at these tiny cookies”! But, with the first bite I fell madly in love! Delta, whenever possible, became my airline of choice, and I stepped inside the plane with one goal in mind: charm the stewardess into giving me two packages. Maybe three… 😉
I kept my passion for these cookies a secret, thinking that professing love for airline cookies would be similar to admitting a weakness for Velveeta (don’t ask, I won’t tell). But one day, I posed a discreet question in a cooking forum trying to find out more about them. All clouds dissipated in the horizon: those are speculaas, very special cookies that originated in Europe centuries ago. Many versions exist, sharing in common a mixture of spices, brown sugar, and butter. Traditionally, they have beautiful, complex designs on the surface, requiring special molds to shape them. I used ceramic molds (highlighted here)that were a bit more affordable than the real McCoy. As to the recipe, my friend Gary shared the method he learned in culinary school. The teacher, chef Gabriel, gave me permission to publish his very own recipe, so you can fall in love with these cookies right in your own kitchen, in the safety of firm ground! Isn’t that awesome?
(Recipe courtesy of Chef Jeffrey Gabriel
CMC Schoolcraft College)
8 oz butter at room temperature
11 oz brown sugar
1 + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 + 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 egg yolks
2 Tbs milk
13 oz flour
2 oz almonds, finely chopped in a food processor.
Place the butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat on medium speed until creamy and smooth (about 3 minutes). Add the spices, egg yolks, and milk. Continue beating until it is all well blended.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the ground almonds, add them to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until a dough forms. Chill the dough for at least one hour, preferably overnight (easier to work with next day).
If rolling the dough, remove from the fridge and work on a floured, cool surface. Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thick, cut in the shape you want, and bake. If using a mold, pull small amounts of dough, press into the slightly floured mold, and delicately remove it, placing the cookie with the design up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake the cookies in a 350F oven until golden brown.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: I will not lie to you. Working with these molds requires patience. I can see that with a lot of practice, it could be a soothing, relaxing activity. Not much Zen was happening in our kitchen, though. Gary recommended this book to speed the learning process, and I have it on my wish list at amazon.com. All reviews are stellar. But, if you don’t have a mold, don’t let it prevent you from making speculaas. They may become your favorite type of cookie, perfect for this time of the year, when we all need the warmth of cinnamon, the nice heat of cloves and nutmeg, the sweetness of sugar and molasses.
Note added after publishing: for a great take on speculas, jump here to see Celia’s version, that includes thinly sliced almonds. From what I’ve been reading, that type of recipe is common in Belgium. Check it out!
ONE YEAR AGO: The Unbearable Lightness of Baking
TWO YEARS AGO: Pain a l’Ancienne