Speculatas, Spekulas, Speculoos, a delicious cookie by any other name and many delicious variations

Due to the fact that whenever my family makes a certain crunchy, spicy, Dutch-derived cookie which my mother has referred to as “speculatas”, and which various websites have referred to as speculoos, speculaas, etc., and which have just as many variants in ingredients, and preparation (my mothers’ have secret ingredients that Martha Stewart’s recipe doesn’t, and vice versa), my mother makes them as refrigerator cookies, some make them as molded cookies, with elaborate carved wooden molds. Anyway, the basic recipe/idea has been around since medieval times, so it’s had plenty of time to diverge into different varieties and to acquire varied preparation methods and ingredients.
All of this was unknown to my family, until my sister did some internet searches a few years ago, and discovered the medieval antecedents of my mother’s recipe for the best-loved cookies we give away. So, a few years ago, we bought some tiny but still expensive wooden carved molds and some gold dust powder and made the medieval molded version. They went over reasonably well, and the edible gold color powder was a nice touch that we’ve since used for other things, but, my mother’s original variety were still the ones acquaintances raved about. So the most recent experiments have been made with a view to commercialize them: put them into mass production & package them for sale! In order to do this, we have to figure out a way to make them more uniform in size, texture, etc.
This past weekend, my mother made three test batches. Batch A was made the usual way she does it, with butter softened on the countertop. They came out flavorful and of medium texture, as they usually do. (They also have significant variations in size, shape, mixture). Batch B was made with the butter still chilled and hard. Batch B came out the most flavorful, but firmer, crisper, and less inclined to “spread” when baked than the usual (Batch A). Batch C was made with proportionally less butter and more flour. The finished cookies were firmer & more consistent in color and texture than Batch A or B, but also less flavorful.
My mother, sister and I “taste-tested” last night, and Batch B “won”.

Add comment October 9th, 2012 Laura

Experimental Christmas cookie preview

Every year, my mother goes all-out making several varieties of Christmas cookies, and I do a lot of work on them, too. I mix up and bake some batches, decorate some while my mother bakes, and various other permutations on the theme. Most get eaten at home, but some get given to distant relations (a package gets shipped, along with presents, to the West Coast family of one of my uncles), many are packaged en masse for a gift exchange my sister runs, and some get given to neighbors and my mother’s mechanic, co-workers, etc. This means _a lot_ of cookies, completed well before Christmas for the sake of shipping. A couple years ago, I stayed up till 4am trying to produce enough by deadline. I ran out of regular flour, and used self-raising flour to make up the difference. No, you cannot run out and get a bag of flour at 4am on Staten Island if you don’t have a car and the freedom to leave. (Disabled family member involved.)
The cookies ended up edible, but “not up to standard”, saltier than usual, with a blander taste. Michelle decreed that they weren’t fit to give away and that I was the bad guy for having produced substandard cookies…this in spite of the fact that we were way past deadline, mom was too exhausted to continue, and I was overloaded with other work as well. This past year (2011) I declared that I would not stay up till 4am making cookies. In fact, I considered the acrimony I experienced last year to be reason enough not to play a role in the yearly mass cookie production, but as with all other things in my family, I got sucked in again. At least this year, the endeavor started earlier, and in stages: well before deadline, my mother mixed up the dough for several “staples” of our annual Christmas cookie production, and stored the dough batches wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge for a couple of weeks; then we rolled out the dough and cut out the cookies in the first weeks of December. In several instances, my mother did the cutting and rolling, while I put cookie sheets into the oven and took them out of the oven. Given the relatively short baking times of most cookies, our having done this “assembly-line fashion” made it considerably more manageable for both of us. In some instances, she baked, I decorated. And for some of the batches, I was responsible for the entire process. This was the case, for instance, with the new variety added to this year’s lineup: Lemon Moons (based on the Lemon Slice cookies in the 1964 Betty Crocker cookbook, cut out with a crescent moon-shaped cookie cutter, and adorned with lemon-flavored icing made using the recipe for Italian Lemon cookies. For some reason, in this instance, as in the past, the production of new varieties of cookies has been largely, if not entirely, in my hands.
In the past, one of Michelle’s other aides added Russian Teacakes to the lineup: though they were good, their spheroidal shape and hard texture, as well as the fact that they contained walnuts, made them impossible for some to eat. They were also messy to eat, store, and move (powdered sugar coating!), involved a lot of work, and were outside of the family “comfort zone”. Then there was the year I made Kahlua Bites (from a recipe in Parade magazine) and Bourbon balls. They went over a little too well: my brother was home on leave and “bogarted” them!

However, as Michelle had this year wisely tried to get us to plan ahead, and wanted input in the optional/new cookies in the lineup, she searched the internet for recipes she wanted to try well ahead of time (in November). She wanted cookies with lemon juice or flavoring as something different. Let’s face it, there aren’t many lemon cookies period, and lemon cookies as Christmas cookies are still more rare. Thus, I tried out a number of new recipes where there was lemon juice in cookies or lemon flavoring in cookies, or lemon icing on the cookies.
Here’s how they stacked up:
Lemon Sand Dollar cookies: everybody liked the taste well enough, but somehow sand dollars just didn’t fit with Christmas.
Italian Lemon cookies: good in theory, but too fat and difficult to mold to specifications in practice. The icing/lemon glaze was well liked, but tended to sink into the soft, bready, raised-dough cookie base. Also, we had to have a special shopping expedition well before making the test batch, because the recipe called for an entire bottle of lemon extract. They went over well with a repairman who came to the house as I was taking them out of the oven, but with Michelle? Not so much.
Then there were the lemon-ginger pinwheel cookies. Pinwheel cookies are pretty big around here, a Christmas season favorite, but we usually have chocolate-and-vanilla pinwheels, though I understand peppermint pinwheels (with peppermint extract in the dough and the non-chocolate dough dyed pink to differentiate them from the regular pinwheels) do exist, and we may have made them many moons ago. (My memory fails me, but my sister’s physical therapist was raving about them.)
The new and exciting pinwheel cookie variant turned out to be meh. I had expected the lemon part to be more conspicuously lemony, and the ginger part came out much softer in texture than the other dough used, and seemingly steamed and crumbly in consistency. Though I would make them and eat them under other circumstances, I agreed that they were disappointing, and not Chrismas cookie-worthy. There was another variety of lemon cookie wherein the somewhat inexact directions resulted in a yield of a small number of cookies, and thus it was deemed not suitable for Christmas cookie production. One could double and triple recipes, and in other circumstances, I have often done so, but no, I did not want to be fiddling with fractions at the 11th hour, so, though I liked these particular cookies, I agreed that they were not Christmas cookie candidates.
Cookie Cutter Ginger Crisps were a bit softer in texture than the average gingerbread cookies, but in flavor quite similar. Since I made the for the first time well before Christmas, I ended up producing something visually interesting as well as seasonally appropriate when I used maple and oak leaf shaped cookie cutters to produce cookies evoking the shape and texture of autumn leaves.
The Lemon Slice cookies from the 1964 Betty Crocker cookbook made a decent number of cookies, and while the cookies themselves could be more lemony (I should try adding lemon extract in addition to the lemon zest the recipe calls for), they were liked by all for flavor, color, and concept. The moon shapes and the addition of icing was Michelle’s idea, and due to the assertive lemon flavor of the icing, it did “add” something to the shortbread-tasting cookies. Due to the harder, denser texture of the cookies, the icing didn’t sink in, but formed a uniform coating on the surface of the cookie. So the cookies were very good in terms of both taste and appearance. There isn’t a recipe for these on the modern-day Betty Crocker website, though these “Lemon Rosemary slices” come close, and this admittedly “old” recipe from a back issue of Good Housekeeping magazine is similar.

I haven’t yet made the sugared cranberries, but I got the cranberries during one of the last days of the Union Square Greenmarket in December, and I plan to make them sometime in the near future.

Add comment October 9th, 2012 Laura

One Girl Cookies cookbook book signing tonight

I’m planning to go to the book-signing party for the One Girl Cookies cookbook in Brooklyn tonight. Reportedly, they’ll have a variety of baked goods sold in the bakery of the same name on hand at the party. This past Sunday’s NY Daily News recipe pages got into the game with an indirect promotion of the book by printing a couple of the recipes therein for people to try. I’m going to try the Daily News versions, and flip through the book at the party…
[url]http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/girl-cookie-cobble-hill-girl-dawn-casale-david-crofton-fell-love-article-1.1003849?localLinksEnabled=false[/url]
[quote]One Girl Cookie in Cobble Hill was just one girl, then Dawn Casale and David Crofton fell in love

By Patty Lee / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Sunday, January 15 2012, 6:00 AM

One Girl Cookies started as a one-girl operation.

At least, until co-owners Dawn Casale and David Crofton fell in love.

Originally a catering business operating out of Casale’s old West Village apartment, today’s One Girl Cookies is a Cobble Hill shop with a devoted neighborhood following.

Families flock to the beloved bakery for bite-sized cookies, whoopie pies and slices of cake that change with the seasons.

Now, with the help of Casale and Crofton’s new “One Girl Cookies” book, they can make them at home, too.

Inspired by her large Sicilian family’s love of food, Casale left her job as an accessories manager at Barneys to bake 11 years ago.

“I started to see that there was a void for cookies as gifts. I felt like a lot of the packaging for cookies at the time was uninspired, a cellophane bag or a tin,” she says. “I wanted to give my customers the same experience as when they open a box of chocolates, which is that very precious ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know what to eat first’ feeling.”

The result: dainty treats with names like Lucia (after Casale’s great grandmother), Lana (her favorite teacher), and Juliette.

One Girl Cookies soon outgrew Casale’s small New York kitchen, but moving to a commercial one meant hiring someone with more than just a home baker’s knowledge.

A friend introduced her to Crofton, who was about to wrap up pastry school, and the two hit it off immediately.

“I had been a bread baker so I had some experience,” says Crofton. “For a long time, it was really just the two of us doing everything. It was exciting and our relationship started building.”

As the pair planned their wedding — Crofton spelled out his proposal in sugar cookies — they also worked on turning One Girl Cookies into a full-fledged shop.

In 2005, Casale and Crofton opened a bakery on a quiet, tree-lined stretch of Dean St. and started adding non-cookie pastries to the menu.

“We opened and we had a completely different and new audience, lots of families, lots of children, so doing cupcakes was really a no-brainer,” says Casale.

The cookbook lets the Brooklyn couple, who are opening a second shop in DUMBO next month, share even more of their ideas, including recipes from both sides of their families.

“Part of the fun of was the ability to share with the world our stories,” says Casale. “There are a lot of recipes for things we don’t serve here because it’s not practical for this setting and having the channel to share those recipes was really nice.”

Crofton, who wrote and tested all of the recipes, encourages home bakers, even amateur ones, to dive right in.

“The ingredients are things that you probably have in your pantry right now or can get with a quick trip to the store. We try to keep it straightforward. It’s not about making impossible recipes with strange ingredients.”

Adds Casale: “We want it to be the book they always reach for when they have the need to make something sweet. We want our book to be the one they have hand-scribbled notes in all dog-eared and grease-stained. A well-used, wellloved book.”

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Stop by the “One Girl Cookies” book signing at powerHouse Arena to sample some of Dawn and Dave’s signature sweets. Wed., Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. 37 Main St., Brooklyn. (718) 666-3049.
Recipe: LEMON, OLIVE OIL, AND ALMOND BISCOTTI

Serves: Makes 48 biscotti
Ingredients

1 cup whole almonds, skins on
2 large eggs
Grated zest of 2 Meyer lemons
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Sicilian olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Put the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes, or until they are well browned and fragrant.
3. Let the nuts cool (leave the oven on). When the almonds are cool enough to handle, put them in a food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times, until ground.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, lemon zest, sugar, olive oil, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, stopping two or three times to scrape down the bowl. Mix until the dough is just beginning to come together. Do not overmix.
6. Scoop the dough out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and shape it into 2 equal logs. The dough should be sticky — you may need to wet your hands slightly with water in order to work with it. Each log should be about as wide as two knuckles on your middle finger and about ½-inch tall.
7. Bake for 14 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for 14 more minutes. Let the logs cool on the baking sheet for 12 to 15 minutes.
8. Reduce the oven temperature to 250.
9. Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice the logs into 1/2-inch-thick biscotti.
10. Put the biscotti on the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them ½-inch apart.
11. Bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for 7 more minutes, or until the biscotti are slightly crisp on the exposed sides. Transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool completely.
VARIATION: I like it when citrus desserts have a little bit of salt. A modest sprinkle of fleur de sel on top of the biscotti before they go into the oven adds a delicious layer of flavor.
Tips: If Meyer lemons are not available, you can substitute 2 regular lemons, or even the grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange.
The stronger the flavor of your olive oil, the more it will shine through in this recipe.
(Recipes excerpted from “One Girl Cookies: Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies, and Cookies from Brooklyn’s Beloved Bakery” by Dawn Casale & David Crofton, Clarkson Potter Publishers, $22.50.)
Recipe: PUMPKIN WHOOPIE PIES with Maple Spice Filling

Serves: Makes about 24 whoopie pies
Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dark molasses
Maple Spice Filling (recipe below)

MAPLE SPICE FILLING
Makes 2 cups
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Grade B dark maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon table salt
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more if needed
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, oil, eggs, and molasses for 3 minutes on medium speed. Thoroughly scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture for a total mixing time of 30 seconds. Carefully scrape down the bowl again.
5. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip (the hole should be about as large as the tip of your ring finger), pipe 2-inch-diameter circles onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1½ inches between them. Be careful to keep your pastry bag completely vertical to achieve nice circles. (If you have to wait between batches of whoopie pies, keep the batter refrigerated.)
6. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 more minutes, until the whoopie pies are a deep orange color and spring back when touched. Let the whoopie pies cool completely.
7. To fill the whoopies, turn half of them over so that they are bottom-side up. Using a pastry bag, pipe a small dollop of the maple spice filling onto each whoopie bottom. Top with the remaining whoopies.

FOR FILLING:
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
2. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, and mix for 30 seconds on low speed.
3. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, and then beat for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl.
4. If the filling is too soft to hold its shape, add more confectioners’ sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.
5. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface of the filling, for up to 5 days.
Recipe: NANA COOKIES

Serves: Makes 36 cookies
Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup whole milk
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cloves, and salt.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the shortening, butter, and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl again.
5. With the mixer running on low speed, mix in a third of the flour mixture and about a third of the milk. Scrape down the bowl.
6. Add another third of the flour mixture and another third of the milk. Add the remaining flour mixture and only enough of the milk to make a smooth dough. It should not be too sticky.
7. Using a large pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe 1 1/2-inch-long cookies onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart.
8. Bake for 15 minutes until the cookies take on a little golden color along the edge. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let them cool completely.
[/quote]

Add comment January 18th, 2012 Laura

Pork loin, apples, and stuffing, oh my!

I’m not the only one who experiments in the kitchen, and dessert isn’t the only meal with which to experiment: recently, my mother took the reigns and searched the internet for a new and exciting recipe for roast pork loin. She must have been in the mood for apples, because this is what she made last night:
from the Food Network:
[url]http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/anne-burrell/roasted-pork-loin-with-cider-and-chunky-applesauce-recipe/index.html[/url]
[quote]Roasted Pork Loin with Cider and Chunky Applesauce

Recipe courtesy Anne Burrell

Prep Time:
20 min
Inactive Prep Time:
15 min
Cook Time:
55 min

Level:
Easy

Serves:
6 servings

Ingredients

* 2 sprigs rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
* 2 sprigs sage, roughly chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, smashed
* Pinch crushed red pepper
* Salt
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 (6-chop) pork rib roast
* 2 large onions, sliced
* 1 bundle thyme, tied with string
* 3 bay leaves
* 2 quarts apple cider
* Chunky Applesauce, recipe follows

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine the chopped herbs with the garlic, crushed red pepper, a generous pinch of salt and enough olive oil to make a paste. Brush the paste on the outside of the pork rib roast.

Toss the onions with olive oil, and salt, and place in the bottom of a roasting pan. Add the thyme, bay leaves and 2/3 of the cider. Place the pork on top of the onions and place in the preheated oven. Roast the pork at 425 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pork has developed a lovely brown crust. Check the pork, stir the onions and cider if they are starting to burn. Add more cider when the level starts to go down.

Lower the oven to 375 degrees F and roast for another 30 to 35 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 150 degrees F. If the crust on the pork starts to get too dark, cover it with foil. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the cider from the bottom of the roasting pan and reserve for the applesauce.

Let the pork rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. When ready to carve remove the pork from the bone and cut the loin into thin slices. Serve with the onions braised in cider and Chunky Applesauce.
Chunky Applesauce:

* 3 tablespoons butter
* 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (toss the apples in lemon juice if not using right away)
* 1 1/2 cups of the reserved cider from the Roasted Pork Loin with Cider
* 1/4 cup apple cider
* 1 pinch ground cinnamon
* 1/4 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to accommodate the apples. Add the apples and saute over medium-low heat until the apples start to soften. Add the reserved cider, apple cider and cinnamon and cook over low-medium heat until most of the cider has evaporated and the apples are cooked and very soft.

Add the heavy cream and walnuts and cook until the cream has reduced by half. The end result should be a very chunky, sweet/savory applesauce.
[/quote]
She didn’t make the Chunky Applesauce part of the recipe (she is philosophically opposed to cooking with cream), and substituted chicken stock because we were out of cider. Because she didn’t have some of the spices in the house, she bought a Recipe Inspirations set (card with pre-measured spices) for Apple & Sage Pork Chops. (Disclosure: I made the recipe from the card on a previous occasion in recent memory, and it got the same reception…)
It was still a good dinner main dish (involving more effort than the average dinner) but my sister complained about the pork and the cubed apples being too tough as well as the unaccustomed juxtaposition of sweet and savory flavors.
For the side dishes, I cooked the last of the organic spinach I had bought during my last visit to the last session of the NYC Union Square Greenmarket, as well as assembling and baking a small casserole dish of potatoes au gratin (for which I bought a carton of light cream beforehand) using only a ginourmous Yukon Gold potato (obtained at that same Greenmarket) which I was sure had to be at least a pound in and of itself. The problem was, that it wasn’t the pound and a half of potato the recipe called for, and with proportional reduction of the other ingredients, it _just made it_ to be the right volume to fit into a smallish, vintage, covered casserole. The recipe called for one-third cup of unsalted butter; I reduced it by nearly half. I wish I had put even less unsalted butter on the top than I did, because when it came out of the oven, the sides of the casserole were slightly greasy, meaning that the butter had bubbled up and run down the sides while it was in the oven. Though I had a smaller quantity of potatoes au gratin than I had originally planned, I was informed that it wasn’t ready whenever my mother checked it. Indeed, it wasn’t ready to come out of the oven until well after dinner and even dessert. So it resides in the fridge as a leftover to be served another day.

Add comment January 18th, 2012 Laura

Suprisingly good

When I finally baked these “Lemon Rosemary Slices” the other day, after having stashed the formed dough in the fridge for about a week, I didn’t think I’d like rosemary as a cookie ingredient, but it works surprisingly well with the lightly lemony shortbread-like matrix. They went over surprisingly well with people (my mother and sister) who are more timid than average about mixing things regarded as “sweet” with those regarded as “savory”.
Well enough that I ended up binging on these little diet-breakers, and my mother and sister liked them well enough to complain that I’d eaten the majority of them.

Add comment January 18th, 2012 Laura

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