By James Distefano — Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
I love spices and everything about them — their history, their applications, their benefits and how they add depth of flavor and nuance to many worldly dishes. As the holiday season approaches, one cookie that I hold close to my heart comes to mind: speculaas. Speculaas (also written speculoos) are thin, crunchy, caramelized cookies that are redolent with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. They are commonly found in northern European countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands throughout the holiday season. When I was a pastry cook at Park Avenue Café, working under Chef Richard Leach, we served these cookies as part of our petit fours plate. I was tasked with making them and I’d always make one or two extra because I loved their spicy sweetness.
The idea to make this cookie was serendipitous. Around the same time that I was asked to come up with a holiday cookie recipe for the ICE blog, I was talking with two of my students about their Middle Eastern backgrounds. One of the students was telling me about a wonderful blend of seven spices used for seasoning meats; the second student about preserved and dried lemons. When I inquired about the spices, the former told me that it’s a very special blend — which happened to include all of the spices in a speculaas recipe, with the addition of rose hip. The second student explained how dried lemon is used for infusing flavor into rice dishes or ground into fine powder to provide a bright, citrusy note with a touch of acid. I fell in love with the idea of using both of these ingredients in this recipe because of their flavor profiles — they would contribute exotic flavors to an already unique cookie. The result was a delicious, spice-filled cookie. And as a bonus: they’re gluten-free. The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to look beyond the familiar to find new flavor profiles — they can really spice up your recipes.
Gluten-Free Speculaas Cookies
Servings: makes about 50 cookies
250 grams butter, room temperature
206 grams powdered sugar
63 grams light brown sugar
2.5 grams lemon zest
5 grams spice blend (a mixture of spices that can include any of the following spices, to taste: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, rose hip and dried lemon)
2 egg yolks
20 grams tapioca starch
55 grams white rice flour
190 grams oat flour
100 grams sorghum flour
10 grams flax meal
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Place the butter, powdered sugar, light brown sugar, lemon zest and spice blend in a bowl fitted for an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine ingredients just until smooth.
- Slowly beat in the eggs and mix until fully incorporated.
- Add dry ingredients and mix on low until combined.
- Divide the dough evenly in half and roll into two cylinders. With plastic wrap, tightly wrap each dough cylinder and place in the refrigerator. Allow dough to hydrate overnight.
- The following day, remove one dough cylinder from the refrigerator and cut into quarter-inch slices, then use a holiday cookie stamp to imprint your favorite design.
- Place stamped cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.
- Once cookies are done, remove from the oven and allow them to cool.
- Repeat with remaining dough cylinders.
- Store cookies in an airtight container for up to two days.
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