Dutchman Stephen Dotsch sells both the spice and the moulds via his home business speculaas.co.uk. Coincidentally, he is based in the street where I grew up, Highgate’s Cholmeley Park. In fact it was an incredible shock to walk up the garden path as I realised it was the house of my dentist Mr Maguire, a very kindly man who made sure we were never frightened. I hadn’t realised he’d died. I spent the first few minutes of meeting Stephen spluttering and saying things like: ‘This was the waiting room. This was the surgery!’
That afternoon I watched Stephen bake his version of speculaas while he explained the history.
“Speculaas are spicier than speculoos. I use my grandmother’s recipe, which has nine spices, but generally they have between five and seven. The biscuit originated in Holland. In our golden age, the 17th-18th century, colonies such as Indonesia and a monopoly on spices meant Dutch bakers got a good price. Belgian bakers couldn’t afford the spices so used only one spice, cassia bark, which was cheaper.
“The original wooden moulds were pagan, but developed into engravings of saints which people used as altar offerings. These are difficult to find – people burnt them during the reformation. Afterwards, only animals, plants or windmills were used for the carvings. These picture biscuits were very popular at fairs.
“I have a 19th century mould, The Lovers. If a young man wanted to marry a girl, he’d bake from a lover mould then decorate the biscuit. If the girl accepts the gift, she is interested. Families would keep wooden moulds as heirlooms.”
To use traditional wooden moulds for the first time, prepare them by brushing the interior of the mould with oil (almond, vegetable or flaxseed). Leave to dry for a couple of days, then repeat. Never wash them. It’s worth buying good quality wooden moulds such as those from Stephen at speculaas.co.uk or souschef.co.uk
Speculaas Biscuit Recipe
9 Spice Mix Speculaas Biscuit recipe
For the spice mix:
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground star anise
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground mace
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
For the dough:
- 220 g plain flour
- 50 g ground almonds
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 45 g speculaas spice, or make your own
- 100 g salted butter, room temperature
- 65 g light brown sugar
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 50 g rice flour for dusting
For the decoration:
- Icing sugar
- If making your own spice, grind all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar or spice mill. Feel free to change the proportions to your own taste.
- Mix together the flour, almonds, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat together.
- Slow down the mixer and gradually add the contents of the flour bowl.
- On a clean surface, pat the dough into a large flat circle, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 170ºC and prepare a couple of flat baking trays lined with a Silpat or parchment.
- Scatter flour onto a clean surface and roll out the dough to 1cm thick.
- Cut out sections to the size of the mould.
- Rub rice flour into the interior of the mould.
- Press a section of the dough into the mould then using a palette knife or a sharp knife, run it flush along the mould, cutting off the excess dough.
- Turn over the mould and carefully but firmly tap out the biscuit against the counter top.
- Place each biscuit onto the flat baking tray as you go.
- Rub flour into the wooden mould each time.
- Gather together the scraps and continue to make biscuits.
- Place the baking trays into the fridge and leave to chill for at least half an hour. This step is important as otherwise the biscuits to puff up too much and lose their shape.
- Bake for ten minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let the biscuits cool completely in their trays.
- For extra crunchy biscuits (my preference, especially for optimum dunking) put the biscuits back in the oven to bake a second time for 3-5 minutes. After all, the word biscuit is French for ‘twice baked’.
- Use a sieve or tea strainer to sift icing sugar over the biscuits.
- To further highlight the pattern from the mould, gently rub or brush the icing sugar into the grooves of the biscuit. Serve with coffee or liqueur.
Tickets cost £50 for a 4 course meal with beer tasting.