1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 grams) almond flour/meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (160 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon (outer yellow skin of lemon)
1 cup (80 grams) sliced or shaved almonds
Speculaas: In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and lemon zest until well combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Flatten the dough into a round, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and form into 1 inch (2.5 cm) balls. Place the balls of dough on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Then, using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten each ball of dough to about 1/4 inch thick (can also use a cookie stamp). Sprinkle each cookie with the shaved almonds. Bake for about 10 - 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
Speculaas are a lovely cookie. These ginger colored rounds, topped with sparkling sugar and shaved almonds, have a spicy almond flavor with a soft, almost cake-like texture. This cookie is traditionally served on the Feast of St. Nicholas (also known as Sinterklaas) but are popular all during the Christmas season. For those unfamiliar with Sinterklaas, it takes place on December 6th to commemorate the death of St. Nicholas of Myra. Now, St. Nicholas was a man of great generosity especially to those less fortunate and his love of children is reflected in the tradition of Dutch children putting out their clogs (shoes) on the eve of December 5th so St. Nicholas can fill them with candy and presents.
This Speculaas recipe comes from a wonderful book called Windmills in my Oven by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra in which she explains both the history and the making of Speculaas. We are told in this book that it is unclear whether the name 'Speculaas' comes from 'speculum' or 'speculator'. As the author tells us there is merit for both; as 'speculum' means "mirror" and some forms of this cookie are made from a mould so the cookie is the mirror image of the mould itself. And 'speculator' means "'he who sees all', in this case St. Nicholas of Myra". Either way, Speculaas have been made for centuries and at one time both the mould itself and the biscuit were painstakingly made by hand. Today the thin and crispy windmill or St. Nicholas shaped biscuits, more often than not, are commercially produced.
There are two types of Speculaas, the thin and crispy ones that we buy and the more cake-like Speculaas that I have given a recipe for here. This recipe makes a cookie that is still wonderfully spicy but with a softer texture. This recipe calls for almond flour or meal. Almond meal (flour) is blanched almonds that are finely ground and can be found at health food stores and many large grocery stores. If you cannot find it you can make your own by taking about 1/2 cup of blanched almonds (along with the flour in the recipe) and processing these two ingredients in your food processor until finely ground. Just make sure not to over process this mixture as it needs to be finely ground, not a paste. You can, however, just use 2 cups (280 grams) of all purpose flour.