This week's assignment for Baked Sunday Mornings is a Belgian biscuit that I already know and love: speculaas. This was one of the first recipes I made from Baked Explorations, and it was love at first taste. I've even done a side-by-side comparison with Biscoffs, and the speculaas can hold their own. But since the speculaas were on the baking schedule, I thought that I would take the opportunity to run a little experiment, to see how adding a little baker's ammonia might affect the cookies.
Baker's ammonia can give cookies a very crisp, dry texture (e.g., as it does for the vanilla dreams cookies from King Arthur flour). Homemade speculaas are crisp, but they definitely do not have the same airy super-crisp texture as real a Biscoff. The problem is, you can't just substitute baker's ammonia for other types of leavening and still expect the recipe to work. The speculaas recipe in Baked Explorations calls for 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and I decided to see what would happen if I added 1/4 teaspoon of baker's ammonia in addition to the baking soda. I also added a splash of milk (probably about 2 teaspoons), because I wanted to dissolve the ammonia in milk to ensure that it would be evenly distributed throughout the batter. To have a basis for comparison, I also made a batch of speculaas following the original recipe, with no ammonia.
The dough with the ammonia and milk was softer, stickier, and more difficult to roll and cut. I used a fluted biscuit cutter, but the cookies from the ammonia batch did not keep their shape as well. As you can see from the picture below, the fluted edges did not hold during baking.
If I could figure out how the adjust the recipe to make the speculaas as crisp and light as a real Biscoff, I would do it in a heartbeat. But until that happens, I'm perfectly happy to keep making and eating these delicious cookies just the way the recipe is written!
Recipe: "Speculaas," from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafio, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.