Speculaas spice mix

A few weeks ago I made these crunchy, spiced speculaas cookies. There is rarely a Belgian household that doesn’t have at least one packet of them laying around. This time of year though, people make an effort to bake them at home or to buy them at the local baker’s. Why? Because in Belgium (and in the Netherlands) Speculaas is very much associated with Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, which we celebrate on December 6th.

To make this yummy treat, you need a Speculaas spice mix. Maybe you are lucky enough to find one ready-made where you live. But if you live outside Belgium or the Netherlands, chances are you won’t find it or it might be expensive. So here is my version. Use it to make Speculaas or add it to your favourite sugar cookie recipe. Try it sprinkled on top of your latte or hot chocolate. Use it for this year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

Speculaas spice mix

4 measures of ground cardamom

8 measures of ground cinnamon

2 measures of ground ginger

1 measure of ground cloves

1 measure of ground nutmeg

1 measure of ground mace (optional)

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container.

What will you use this spice mix for?

ENJOY!

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

Perfect speculaas cookies (homemade biscoff cookies)

For the past 5 days Berlin has been covered in a blanket of greyness. The sun obviously thought that it also deserved a week of autumn holiday like all the school kids in the city. Rubber boots were the preferred choice of footwear and every puddle on the way to Kita had to be jumped in. I would have joined my kids in this fun activity but I don’t own rubber boots. I did attempt to buy a pair yesterday but it turns out, they are not really stocked in shoe shops. The adult version, that is, kids boots are available everywhere. But guess what, today we woke up to blue skies. It has since clouded over a bit but the rain has stopped. And so has my search for boots.

Next time it rains, I will of course end up with wet feet again. P. will point out that I should really get proper footwear for the season. I will tell him that he is right and that I will order some online tonight. We have had this same conversation for the past 3 autumns here in Berlin…

Traditional speculaas cookies

So we’ve had our first week of proper awful autumn weather in the city and this can only mean one thing. People are moving indoors in search of comfort and cosiness. Tables outside of restaurants are empty and iced coffees are swapped for hot chocolates and ginger teas. And since the ice cream shops have closed for the season, sweet temptations have to be found elsewhere. When was the last time your home smelled of freshly baked cookies? More to the point, has your home ever been filled with the smells of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and my favourite, mace?

Speculaas (or speculoos, or Biscoff cookies) are spiced cookies which can be found all year round in Belgium. The spice mix needed to make them comes ready-made and can easily be bought in shops or bakeries. I started making my own speculaas mix because these packets are not available in Berlin and maybe where you live either. The cookies will not taste like the Lotus brand of Biscoff cookies though. They are the kind you would buy at the traditional bakery on the corner of the street.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

A quick note on the spices:

– Cardamom comes in pods or already ground. If you can only find the pods, ground the seeds with a spice grinder or coffee grinder until you get a fine powder.

– The same applies for the cloves. If you can’t find the powder, grind them into a thin powder.

– Use only ground ginger and nutmeg.

– Mace is a spice derived from nutmeg. You will also need it in powder form. I find this spice tricky to find where I live. It can be left out.

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

(makes 15-20 depending on what cookie cutter you use)

Ingredients:

250g flour

150g butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tbsp milk at room temperature

1 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)

Method:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Add the milk and the butter and kneed until the dough stops sticking to your hands or the dough hook of a standmixer.

3. Roll the dough into a ball them flatten into a thick disk. Wrap it in baking paper (or clingfilm) and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better as the flavours will really develop.

4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

5. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough until 5 mm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Transfer the cookies to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

6. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes.

7. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack and store in a airtight container.

ENJOY!

Stacks of crunchy, spicy speculaas cookies

Sacher Torte – Austrian chocolate cake

Sacher Torte

Have a slice of this delicious Austrian chocolate cake - Sacher Torte

Every Sunday I look at my diary and see a pretty straight forward week: work Monday and Tuesday, day off on Wednesday, blog on Thursday and Friday then settle down for the weekend. And then Monday morning comes around. I find myself at my desk with said diary, a pencil and an eraser and everything changes.

A friend moved away earlier than I had expected. In other words, a last-minute get-together had to be arranged quickly. Another friend who I hadn’t seen in years found herself unexpectedly with a day off in Berlin. So Tuesday’s work got cancelled and off we went for a delicious catch up breakfast. I spent most of Wednesday on the sofa fighting a cold so that I could at least work on Thursday. And now we are at the end of the week and I’m looking after my oldest who was sick last night and this morning and therefore can’t go to Kita. Oh, and I did get that cold…

The advantage of having our business is that I can be flexible. If I don’t get it done during the day because I need to take my daughter to the doctor, I can catch up in the evening. If P. has his days off during the week, I can spend the day with him if I plan work and blog around it. It’s not a perfect system, and like this week, it all sort of became a bit chaotic.

I tried very hard to bake something good in all this chaos. I forced myself to step out of the stress lane and focus. Work slow. Be precise. And it worked… until I sort of dropped the cake and it cracked. I hid it with the icing so it looked a bit nicer. In a weird way, it reflects many parents’ life. You might think we’ve got it all under control. It may look like we have the perfect balance of kids-work-us but in reality it’s more like my Sacher Torte this week: a bit cracked, a bit crumbly, a bit not how it should be but still fabulous. How has your week been?

(Here’s a view of the beautiful Café Sacher, home to the original and secret recipe for this delicious cake)

Sacher Torte - delicious Austrian chocolate cake

Sacher Torte (Austrian chocolate cake)

(adapted from a recipe by Mary Berry)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

150g dark chocolate

150g soft butter

100g sugar

1/2 tbsp vanilla sugar

5 eggs, separated

75g ground almonds

40g plain flower

For the topping:

6 tbsp apricot jam

150g dark chocolate

200ml whipping cream

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 23cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

2. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it gently in a bowl set on a saucepan with 2-3cm of simmering water. Let it cool a bit. Meanwhile, beat the butter until really soft and then gradually add the sugar and the vanilla sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the cooled chocolate to the mixture and beat again. Then add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until fully incorporated.

4.Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold it into the mixture. Then pour it all in the cake tin. Level the top.

5. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean and the top of the cake is springy. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack and pealing off the baking paper.

6. When the cake is completely cooled, make the topping. Heat the apricot jam in a saucepan. Strain it to get rid of any lumps and bits. Brush the jam on the top and sides of the cake. Let the jam cool.

7. Melt the chocolate and the cream togheter in a bowl set on a saucepan with 2-3cm simmering water. Allow to cool and thicken a bit. Then pour the chocolate in the center of the cake and let it cover the cake completely. Now leave it to set.

 Enjoy!

Delicious chocolate cake - Sacher Torte

Baking with kids: R.O.C. (raisins, oatmeal, coconut) cookies

Do you sometimes feel like time is running away and you are desperately trying to catch up with it? That’s how I have been feeling these last few weeks. It was my 3 year old daughter that reminded me last Saturday that we hadn’t baked anything yet. She came running into the kitchen looking very disappointed and worried and said: “Mama, we still need to bake today!” I then heard a nearly 2 year old son run from the far end of our apartment to the kitchen screaming: “JAAAAAAA, BAKA!!” which is Swedish for “YEEEEEES, BAKE!!” And so we did…

Cookies in dish

I admit, I did have a panic moment as they opened up the kitchen cupboard and took out their aprons. I hadn’t planned anything. I didn’t have a recipe. What on earth were we going to make? Turns out, we ‘invented’ R(raisins) O(oatmeal) C(coconut) cookies (and they kind of look like rocks too).

Three cookies on a white napkin

These are the kind of cookies you literally throw together. Everything goes in one pot. And then you hand the little ones a wooden spoon and let them get on with it. Although, I used my stand mixer and I let them take turns in throwing the ingredients in the bowl (pouring is for adults in case you didn’t know).

One cookie

Tadah! One golden nugget of goodness. Perfect for little hands and no refined sugar. The sweetness comes from the raisins and the agave or honey used. These are so easy and quick to make and so much better and healthier than anything bought in the shop.

Several cookies

Let the kids roll the balls. Or if your child is still too young for this skill, roll the balls yourself and let them place the cookies on the baking tray.

R.O.C. Cookies

(makes 20)

1/2 cup almond meal (about 8 tbsp)

1 cup oats (about 16 tbsp)

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp soft, unrefined coconut oil

1 egg, whisked

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup raisins (about 8 tbsp)

2 tbsp agave nectar or honey

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle and a low speed.

Makes 20 little balls with about a tbsp or 2 of cookies mixture.

Put the cookie balls on a lined baking tray. If you want flat cookies, press down lightly to form small, thick discs.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

You can make this recipe gluten free by using gluten free oats and substituting baking powder for 1 part baking soda plus 2 parts cream of tartar.

Cookies surrounded by toys