Just bizarre enough of a word to require an exclamation point, wouldn't you say? Like, Eureka! Or Xanadu! (Maybe I'm going solo on always having to say Xanadu nice and loud, but that is neither here nor there.) So what exactly is speculoos (or speculaas) about, anyway? If you've been following the food-related internets, you've probably seen store-bought versions of speculoos raved about often, whether it be in spread or biscuit form, and some might argue that it's the best reason for flying certain commercial airlines.
But to me, speculoos have always been one of the most craveworthy cookies out there: buttery, crisp, and perfectly spiced (but not overpoweringly so) for the holidays with hits of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. And as it turns out, making your own is dead simple and even better than the factory-made kind. Plus, they sort of cry out to be decorated in a jaunty, Pinterest-y type way, and really, isn't that what the holidays are all about? (I kid.) (Sort of.)
So as of this past weekend, we are fully in the swing of the holiday season now around this house and it is glorious. We have the tree up, the mantle decorated (my husband managed to only laugh loudly at me and not actually roll his eyes when I explained that the look of this year's mantle is "Vintage Woodland Winter Wonderland"--he's a keeper, ladies!), and Buster the Elf has made his way from the North Pole to various posts in our living room a few times already. All we have to do is talk our four-year-old out of this insane affinity she's developed for getting a "remote control helicopter" this year and we're all set.
(Sidebar: Little C's exact quote right after visiting Mall Santa was, "So at first I was nervous, because he asked what I wanted, and I just said 'a helicopter'. But then Santa said, "A remote control helicopter?", and then it was okay because I knew he really knows what he's talking about." Well, God Bless Us, Every One, then. Lord knows I don't need to wake up on December 25th with Marine One on my lawn.)
Since we've already scratched the surface with a perfectly decadent Gateway Cookie, this is a great next step for this year's holiday baking adventures. It doesn't get much easier than a slice-and-bake cookie, topped with the world's simplest glaze. Plus, these little gems make the perfect canvas for getting some sprinkle action on, which, let's face it, is what holiday cookie baking is all about. Although aesthetics hardly matter when you're shoving cookies in your face two at a time.
Dorie Greenspan's Speculoos Buttons Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 55-60 1 1/2-inch cookies
The yield of the original recipe was 90 cookies, which would have to make for some pretty small buttons, maybe the size of coat buttons? Instead of dividing the dough into thirds, I opted for halving it, and made my cookies a little bigger, though no less adorable. This may have been why I needed more baking time for the finished cookies to come out crisp, (although it was quite a bit longer--7 minutes more), but I can't be sure--maybe the original recipe didn't intend for snappy cookies? In any case, I'm writing the baking time below as a wide range--if you stick to the lower end, you'll end up with cookies that are crisp on the edges, but tender towards the center. The longer baking time makes for the speculoos texture I like, which is uniformly crisp throughout (which also makes the cookies ideal for cookie tins and shipping).
This recipe is fabulously do-ahead because you can make the whole batch in advance, freeze the wrapped dough logs for weeks on end, and then just bake off however many cookies you'd like at a time. I baked one log the first day, and then the second log several days later, and found that the second log was even more flavorful than the first, so that's a nice bonus.
You can really adjust the amounts of the spices here to suit your tastes--I'm not the world's hugest ginger fan, so I halved that amount and upped the cinnamon and loved the result.
For the cookies: 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons mild-flavored (light) molasses 1 large egg, room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 large egg white Sanding or other decorative sugar
For the glaze: 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted Sprinkles, colored sanding sugar, or dragées (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and spices. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the sugars and molasses. Beat until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients, blending well.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface (you may need a light dusting of flour depending on how warm the dough has gotten during mixing). Divide into thirds (or in half, see note). Using your palms, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs tightly in plastic or parchment paper and freeze for at least 3 hours. (Dough can be made up to 2 months ahead and kept frozen.)
When you're ready to bake, arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat it to 375°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (2 baking sheets will do if you've only made two dough logs).
Whisk egg white in a small bowl to loosen (a tiny dash of salt will help liquify the egg white). Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the egg white all over 1 log. By either sprinkling or rolling the log in a shallow dish of sanding sugar, completely coat the outside of the log with sugar. Using a thin, sharp knife, slice off a sliver of dough from each end of log to make the ends neat and flat. Cut the log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Place the rounds on a baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart (these cookies don't require much space in between--you should be able to fit an entire dough log's worth of rounds on 1 sheet). Place the baking sheet in the freezer to keep the dough cold while you repeat the sugaring and slicing process with the remaining dough.
Bake 2 sheets of cookies at a time, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, anywhere from 11 to 18 minutes depending on how crisp you'd like the finished cookies to be (I pull them from the oven when they're firm to the touch all over; if you'd like a more tender-centered cookie, pull them when they're mostly firm, but with just a little give in the center). Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Repeat with third sheet of cookies, if you've made three dough logs.
When the cookies have cooled, make the glaze: whisk together the powdered sugar and 7 teaspoons cold water in a medium mixing bowl (the glaze will be a like a thick paste--when you pull up the whisk, it will hold its shape for just a moment before the surface becomes smooth again). Dollop a bit on glaze on each cookie with a small spoon, or fill a plastic baggie with the glaze and cut a small hole in 1 corner; pipe glaze in an even circle around edges of cookies, then fill). Decorate with sprinkles, colored sugar, or dragées. Let stand on rack at room temperature for at least 30 minutes for glaze to set. Store airtight at room temperature for up to 5 days.