I recently returned from a short break in Belgium. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t at its best so we took cover in a seemingly ordinary café with an uninspiring frontage and dull plastic sign with the name, ‘Au Pingouin’ – or Penguin – written on it. Once we settled ourselves in, we realised that on the inside, the Penguin café was actually much nicer than the outside suggested. Yes, full of all manner of penguin paraphernalia, but wonderfully cosy with chandeliers, beautiful tiles, comfy seating and best of all… a warm, family welcome.
Three generations of the same family served us freshly-cooked waffles made from ‘Grandpa’s secret recipe’ – in fact, they even allowed me to have a turn at cooking my own! We enjoyed amazing hot chocolate made in a copper saucepan with real melted chocolate and served in individual silver pots, ensuring every mouthful was deliciously warm to the last.
To top off our delightful feast, we also ordered my all-time favourite biscuits – Speculoos. These thin, crunchy, caramelised biscuits are enjoyed in Belgium for the annual St. Nicholas celebration feast on 6th December and are imprinted with pictures – traditionally of St. Nicholas – using moulds or a specially adapted rolling pin.
Inspired, I used a stamp with the Liz Earle logo to make them at home, but you could use whatever you like to make a pattern… and if you pierce a small hole in the dough before baking them, then they can also double as edible tree decorations. Delicious to eat at any time of year, however Speculoos are particularly good at Christmas when their warm mix of spices fills the house with a gorgeous festive aroma.
Ingredients – Makes about 60
- 113g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- 75g white, granulated sugar
- 165g muscavado sugar
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 ½ tsps cinnamon
- ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¾ tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract (or seeds from 1 vanilla pod)
- 1 large egg
- 235g plain flour
- Cream butter, sugars, baking powder, salt and spices.
- Add vanilla and egg and combine.
- Add flour and mix until combined.
- Split dough in half, roll to about 5mm thickness (if dough is sticky, use a little flour, or roll onto cling film to enable easier lifting).
- Imprint the biscuits with the rolling pin, mould or stamp (if using as a decoration, remember to make a hole to thread the string through).
- Cut the biscuits using a biscuit cutter (I used a 5cm diameter round cutter) and place onto baking sheets lined with non-stick baking paper. Remember to leave enough space to allow for a little spreading while cooking.
- Leave to rest for 30 minutes, or overnight in the fridge, which allows the spices to infuse the dough with flavour.
- Pre-heat oven to 190C or 375F.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on oven. They are cooked when the edge turns golden brown.
- Leave to cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool.
- The Speculoos will harden as they cool.