Finally. I have spent almost a whole Sunday baking cookies. It had to happen once and last Sunday I plucked up my courage and prepared my icing pistol, cookie cutters, and cookie dough and took a leap of faith. In a week we will be celebrating Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, an annual party with lots of presents and ginger cookies and that’s why I chose to bake some ginger cookies with lemon icing. And guess what!? I loved it! It went marvellous! I hadn’t expected it to be so cosy and homey and so easy at the same time! I caught myself singing while cutting out the cookies and crying ‘I love this!’ Totally unexpected. I immediately bought extra cookie cutters for Christmas and Easter, so who knows what I’m up for next. First I’m going to eat all these autumn leaves ginger cookies with lemon icing. Yum!
Ginger cookies are a traditional bake with Sinterklaas and Advent. And we don’t call it ginger cookies but we call it speculaas (pronunciation: spe:ky’la:s). Speculaasjes (little speculaas cookies) are a type of spiced shortcrust biscuits and are characteristic Dutch and Belgian cookies but are also common in the North of France, Luxembourg, and in the German regions of Westphalia and Rhineland. Traditionally speculaas is made of rye flour, butter, brown sugar and special speculaas spices. These speculaas spices consist of 8 parts cinnamon, 2 parts nutmeg, 2 parts cloves, 1 part ginger powder, 1 part cardamon, and 1 part white pepper. If you wish you can also add star anise, cilantro or mace.
At the beginning of the 20th century the speculaas spices where so expensive the Belgians began baking ‘speculoos’ (sort of gingerless cookies), without the spices. Speculoos are cookies with caramel. They are also baked in Germany and there they’re called Karamellgebäck. The origins of the word speculaas vary a lot. One explanation is that it’s derived from ‘spice’ because of all the used spices. Another explanation says it’s derived from the Latin word ‘speculator’ (he who sees) because of the all-seeing Sinterklaas. The most probable explanation however is the one which links speculaas to the Latin word for mirror, ‘speculum’, because the speculaas doll takes the reflection of its mold after it’s baked.
I used cookie cutters with the shape of autumn leaves but obviously you can use any shape you like. Therefore you can easily make these Sinterklaas cookies into Christmas cookies by using a star or snowflake shaped cutter. And after baking you can decorate them with any colour icing you like. You can use edible colouring agent or use other ingredients to colour your icing. A pinch of turmeric will turn your icing yellow, a drop of beet juice will make it turn pink, and a dash of orangejuice will turn your icing orange. I found experimenting with colouring icing like a little pandora’s box. You never know how it will turn out!
Autumn Leaves shaped Ginger Cookies
Makes about 50 cookies (5 x 5cm)
300 gr flour
150 gr brown sugar
150 gr cold butter, diced
Pinch of salt
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground white pepper
½ tsp cardamom
1 portion Lemon Icing – see the recipe below
1. In a large bowl squeeze the cold butter through the flour making a shortcrust pastry. Add all the other ingredients, mix together and shape the dough into a ball. Cover with cling wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour, preferably all night for then the dough will absorb all the lovely flavours of the spices.
2. Preheat your oven on 175 degrees Celsius. Cover your working space with a little flour and roll out your dough until you have a large rectangle. Make sure your dough patch isn’t any thicker than 5 millimeters. Cut out your cookies using a or several cookie cutters. Cover a baking tray with baking paper and place your cookies on it.
3. Shape any leftover dough into a ball again and repeat. If your dough gets too warm cover it with cling wrap and let it cool down in the fridge for 10 minutes. Your dough needs to be cold because otherwise your cookies will ooze after cutting.
4. Bake your cookies 15 minutes or until they are golden. When out of the oven immediately place them on a rack so they can cool completely. Do not leave them on the hot baking tray for they will overbake. Decorate with Lemon Icing (see recipe below) and serve with a cup of hot cocoa.
Enough for about 50 cookies or more
175 gr icing sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
Optional: edible colouring agents like beet juice, turmeric, orange juice or any colour lemonade. Bear in mind that the icing will take on a little of the colouring agents flavour!
1. Sieve icing sugar into a large bowl. Add lemon juice, one tablespoon at a time and whisk until it’s fluid enough to decorate your cookies. Put the icing into a glaze pistol or a pastry bag with a small tip and decorate your cookies.
Let the icing set completely before putting your cookies into an airtight container. They will keep for one week.