Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Cookie Countdown, Week 1: Spekulatius.

Last year when I was "researching" winter holiday customs from around the world (that is if you call checking out a handful of World Book "Christmas in (insert country)" books from the library and skimming through them "research"), I came across the custom of baking Spekulatius cookies for St. Nicholas Day.

The name comes from the Latin "speculum" meaning "mirror" (and not to be confounded with that other "speculum" we'd all rather not think about when we don't have to) and refers to the cookie being the mirror image of the mold.

Last year I cooked up a batch, using the recipe from The Joy of Cooking and just rolling and cutting the dough with cookie cutters. They turned out delicious--flavored with almond extract, lemon zest, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg (recipes abound and include other spices like ginger, cloves and even white pepper; some involve actual ground almond meal. I like the cinnamon flavor of the Joy recipe, and the distinction in flavor from gingerbread cookies, which I enjoy, but will make some other time).

Santa put a Spekulatius mold (from here)in my stocking last Christmas, so this year, I had to try making them the traditional way.

Using the same recipe (minus the lemon zest because I didn't have any lemons), I mixed up a double batch Saturday night. Then, Sunday morning as the kids headed out to their grandparents' house, I got started.

Six hours later, I had a lot of St. Nicholas's. The flier that came with the mold says something like, "Now you know why traditional mold-made cookie making is a dying art." You can say that again. After it was all done, I was a little amazed at how much time I had devoted to just making cookies (with a little making of breakfast, lunch and dinner and hanging of laundry thrown in to mix things up). I'm generally not all that patient in the food-forming department. But, it was fun and challenging, and kind of relaxing and enjoyable to engage in an ages-old tradition.

That being said, I don't think I'll do it to quite the same level in the future. Maybe not a double batch. Maybe a few molded cookies, with the rest rolled and cut.

I had read in the school newsletter that E and Z's class was learning about holiday traditions around the world through foods enjoyed in those cultures' celebrations, so I debated sending a batch of Spekulatius to the class for St. Nicholas Day. I agonized over the five-year-old set not truly appreciating all my hard work. I berated myself for being so stingy. In the end, school was cancelled due to snow on Monday, but I took the cookies in on Tuesday instead, where I found out that it's actually the OTHER kindergarten class that's learning about foods and holidays around the world. E and Z's class is learning about toys around the world. Ooof.

When not in service to cookie making, the mold makes a lovely decoration. The one on the right is the Spekulatius St. Nick; the other is a Springerle mold, which is a whole other flavor (anise) and technique (pressing into rolled dough) that I have not yet tried. Maybe next weekend.

(All action shots taken by C, who very kindly agreed to take pictures of me making cookies without question or weird looks).


  1. Those are some beautiful cookie making molds!


  2. Those look quite yummy! hope you have lots of eaters!

  3. Wow, those molds are gorgeous, and the cookies look really yummy :)

  4. The cookies and the molds are beautiful. I have to admit that I laughed when I saw "speculum." I loved learning the etymology, but I'm always going to have a weird association with that type of cookie now!

  5. I meant to tell you earlier - go you!!! These cookies are hard work and I applaud your mad baking skills. When I was growing up, my mom's best friend used to make them. We had one mold, and we were a baking family, but it served that secondary - decorative - purpose. (:


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