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Speculaas (Saint Nicholas Cookies)
(recipe, Gourmet Editors)
A former minister of foreign affairs in Holland offended many cooks when he informed the world that the speculaas was Europe's best cookie. That is a matter of opinion, but it is a matter of fact that they are among the oldest cookies on record, for speculaas have been baked in the Netherlands for centuries. They began life as gifts to the gods, left in the fields as offerings to ensure a good harvest. But humans are equally enamored of this cross between a spice cookie and a shortbread because of their comfortingly robust and old-fashioned flavor.
- 3 cups flour
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. cloves
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground aniseed
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. ground ginger or white pepper
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1½ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. milk, dark rum, or brandy
- Blanched almonds, halved or slivered
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a cookie sheet.
- Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.
- In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the dark brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the milk, rum, or brandy.
- Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until it is well combined, and form the dough into a ball. Knead the dough on a board sprinkled with about ¼ cup flour, and roll it out into a rectangle ¼ inch thick. With a sharp knife or cutter, cut the dough into rectangles, 2½ inches by 1½ inches.
- Put the rectangles on the prepared baking sheet. Decorate them with the blanched almonds, gently pushing the nuts into the dough, and brush them with the lightly beaten egg white.
- Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are browned and firm.