The first time I looked through my copy of Baked Explorations, I saw a recipe for "Speculaas" -- but I had no idea what speculaas were and I was ready to just pass the recipe right by. However, I happened to notice the amusing text right beneath the recipe title: "Those damned Delta Airlines Biscoff cookies haunt me." As the cookbook explains, the Biscoff cookies served on Delta are speculaas, a type of Dutch or Belgian shortbread biscuit that is traditionally served on St. Nicholas's Eve (December 6). I don't fly Delta very often, but I've had a Biscoff or two in my time and I thought they were pretty tasty. And while my appreciation for Biscoffs doesn't rise to the level of cult fan (like some other folks you can read about here), I thought it would be pretty cool to try to make them at home.
The recipe is straightforward. You mix together flour, dark brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and salt, and then cut in cool butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand. (Note: if you have the cookbook and try out this recipe, the reference to cardamom in the narrative instructions is a typo -- cardamom is not in the list of recipe ingredients and you're not supposed to add any.) You then cut in a beaten egg and some orange zest, knead the dough until it forms a ball, and chill it for at least an hour. After it's chilled, you roll out the dough and cut it, sprinkle on coarse sugar, and bake. I used a rectangular (2.5 inches by 1.75 inches) fluted cookie cutter to get biscuit shapes.
These cookies are fabulous. First, the flavor is remarkably like a Biscoff (or at least what I remember a Biscoff to taste like -- it's been a while since I've flown Delta!). They have a delicious spice flavor that is rich without being overpowering. I think I added a little too much orange zest, which was the biggest tip off they weren't the real thing -- but they were still pretty darn close. Second, they have a wonderful crisp and sturdy texture, like a biscuit. Third, they're beautiful. They retain their shape well during baking and the tops are sparkling with coarse sugar. Fourth, the dough has a wonderful quality: I was able to re-roll the scraps over and over again with impunity. The recipe notes that you might have to flour and flip the dough several times when rolling it out to prevent sticking, and that scraps can be rolled out once more. I did have to use an awful lot of flour to keep the dough from sticking, but I was able to re-roll my scraps multiple times over and over again until I used up every last bit of dough. Normally, re-rolling cookie dough scraps that have been floured causes all sorts of problems -- ugly air pockets, tough texture, dry cookies -- but honestly, I didn't notice any defects in the cookies cut from dough that had been re-rolled multiple times. The recipe says it makes 24 round two-inch cookies, but I was able to get 60 from my batch of dough (I did roll the dough slightly thinner than the 1/4-inch specified).
Something about these cookies is completely addictive. Which brings me to another great thing about them -- you can eat them without much guilt. I was able to make 60 cookies from a recipe that only calls for 10 tablespoons of butter and one egg. Even if you're never had a Biscoff, these Biscoff knockoffs are a crunchy delight!
Recipe: "Speculaas" from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.