In 2003, I spent a year in Belgium. I was an exchange student, living with a host family and attending college. It was a wonderful and life-changing experience. One of the many things I learned about was St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on 6 December. I remember being welcomed to our school desks that morning with clementines and speculaas biscuits – what a nice start to the day! So, it seemed only fitting to make these festive biscuits.
Even if you haven’t experienced St. Nicholas Day before, you may well have tried these biscuits. In some European countries, you’ll often be served one on the side of your coffee. You can also buy them in supermarkets here in the UK. They’re thin and crispy with warming spices like cinnamon and ginger...and dangerously moreish.
In Belgium, they also sell speculaas flavoured ice cream – which is utterly scrumptious – and sell it as a spread.
The devil is in the detail - French recipe minimalism
I’ve mentioned before that French recipes often provide less detail than English recipes. My source recipe is a prime example. It reminded me of a ‘recipe’ you might expect from a home cook, for a dish they’ve made umpteen times over many years. The sort that relies on instinct and experience rather than detailed instructions.
Below are elements I would have expected in an English recipe, versus those that appeared in the source.
n/a > Pre-heat the oven to 160°C
Pre-heating the oven wasn’t mentioned in the instructions at all, although some could say it is a given. By contrast, in English recipe, it is common for this to be among the first few instructions.
Roll the dough out thinly > Roll out the dough until 5mm thick.
Since the recipe didn't specify, I guessed how thin ‘thin’ was. Knowing what the end result should look like, and having pictures, help a lot with this. Whereas I think having some sort of measurement would be more usual in an English recipe.
Cook for 15 minutes at a low temperature > Cook for 15 minutes at 160°C until turning golden at the edges
This was perhaps the vaguest part of the recipe – how low is low? Since 180°C is standard baking temperature, I guessed 160°C, and removed them once they were starting to colour at the edges. The bottom tray-full did need a bit longer though, so I could have had it higher.
Although I had to make quite a few guesses along the way, the biscuits did turn out well. However, my source recipe produced copious amounts of dough. Admittedly, I should have realised this, given the quantities of ingredients… Fortunately, I sent my partner into work with a load, and took a tin-full to a friend’s celebration, but I still ate a few more than I should have! My recommendation would be to halve the recipe or freeze or chill half the dough to make into biscuits on another day.
I’m not sure on this week’s recipe just yet – ideas would be welcomed!