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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Almond Spekulatius (German Almond Spice Cookie)

Smaller than a bread box, better than a shortbread cookie

These were made with the German cookie mould, but you could use a cookie cutter or just cut them into squares with a knife

We've been collecting cookie cutters for years. One might say it's gotten out of hand. All shapes and sizes, we just love them. We'll never forget my first cookie cutters found in a darling antique shop in Maine. They were really cool post WWII cookie cutters: Rosie the Riveter, a B-52 plane and soldier helmet.

This is only a very small portion of the cookie cutters we've collected

When we finally got around to making rolled cookies... they were horrible. They tasted like a dry tasteless thing with gobs of icing smeared haphazardly on top. We could've pressed wet saw dust together and it would've been more pleasing.

You can cover a dry turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, but there is no amount of icing that can be slathered across a tasteless cookie to save it from being a communion waifer. The best recipe we'd been able to find was Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe and even that tasted identical to the Pillsbury pre-made sugar cookie dough, but with a lot more work.

Since rolled cookies must stand up to being cut and holding their shape while baking, they're made with shortbread dough and cut very thick. It's a very dense floury texture. You can't fix this by adding extra butter or oil because then it's too soft to hold the shape and will spread when baking.

So those are our choices? Sawdust vs greasy and mis-shapen? There has to be a better way. While traveling in the Alsace region of France this year - we found it! Alsace is the area where France and Germany meet. As wars came and went, the area was occupied by Germany, then France, then Germany, then France. It's currently French. The result? Amazing French food with a heavy German influence. Lots of delicious butter pastries but with the intense German spices. What a total win! :)

Here are a few of the moulds we brought back from Alsace

They have a cookie called "almond spekulatius". They're rolled out like shortbread cookies, then pressed with intricate moilds to make a design on top. It's very similar to a sugar shortbread cookie, but part of the flour is replaced by almond flour and a lot of spices are added. This allows the dough to still be pliable enough to work with, but hold its shape when baked. Since almond flour doesn't have gluten, it also means the dough is more forgiving as it won't get tough after working with it and re-rolling it several times. (This also means it's a low gluten cookie - less than 50% gluten than a regular shortbread cookie.)

You don't need these molds to make the cookies. You can use cookie cutters or even just cut them into square or diamond shapes. To demonstrate, we made several with the moulds we brought back, used a cookie cutter for a couple of them, and then for the others we just cut the dough into rustic looking squares. (The rustic ones usually have a sliced almond placed into each corner of the square.)

There are all kinds of things you can do to snazz them up. One of them is to stick a slightly wettened cherry on a cookie. (The almond flavor works reall well with cherry, but you way want to omit the spices.) You could also press an almond into the corners of the cookie. You could sprinkle them with sugar and cinammon. They're not too sweet so they also work really well with sugar cookie icing. You could do all of the above. Or you could eat them as is, which is actually how they're normally eaten.

They're great right out of the oven, but they really peak about 3 or 4 days after baking them because the spices really permeate the entire cookie and they develop a soft texture. This means they ship really well and work great in holiday gift packages. Just make sure to keep tightly sealed so they stay fresh.

Get ready - your house is about to wreak of Christmas!

Note: In the pictures, we used hazelnut flour because I was out of almond flour. The hazelnut flour will be darker and speckled looking. Almond flour tastes and looks better. Both are easily found in any grocery store, sometimes on the baking aisle and sometimes in the "health" aisle with the other natural and gluten-free stuff.

  • 425 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 250 g sugar
  • 200 g unsalted butter (just over 1 - 3/4 sticks) at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp cloves (optional)
  • 500 g almond flour (or  hazelnut or pistachio)
Directions: (Make sure to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl during each step to ensure complete mixing):

All the ingredients to make almond spekulatius cookies

  1. Mix the flour and baking power together and set aside.
  2. Cream the sugar and butter in the mixer for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy.
    Butter and sugar all creamed up!
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    After whipping in the eggs
  4. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and all the spices, beat for a few minutes until well mixed.
  5. Incorporate the almond flour while on low speed and continue  beating until mixed.
    We used hazelnut flour because I was out of almond, which makes the cookies darker and speckled.
  6. Incorporate the all-purpose flour and beat just barely until combined.
    The dough will get very thick after adding the all purpose flour
  7. Use a spatula to press into a ball, press plastic wrap onto the ball to keep it from drying out then refrigerate for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight.
    Use a spatula to shape into a ball before chilling
  8. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  9. Use a knife to cut ball into four even pieces. Put 3 of them back in the fridge so they stay chilled. Place one of them on a lightly floured surface.
    Place chilled dough onto a lightly flowered surface
  10. There are three options for rolling:

    We made a few moulded cookies, did some with a cookie cutter, but it was late at night so we decided just to cut the rest into squares.

    Option 1: Cookie moulds - Roll out to about double the thickness of a pie crust. Flour and tap out the mould before each use. Press it into the dough (the final cookie after being pressed will only be about half as thick), gently wiggle it around a bit, then use a knife to trim the edges of the cookie while still under the mould. Then scoot a floured knife under the cookie and lift onto the baking sheet.

    Press mould into dough and wiggle with gentle pressure. Use a knife to cut around sides of mould.

    Mould pressed cookie, ready for the oven!

    Option 2: Cookie cutters - Roll out the dough to about the thickness of a thick pie crust. Use a cookie cutter to cut it out.

    Option 3: Rustic - Take a queue from the Alsatians, just roll them out to the thickness of a pie crust but use a knife to cut them into approximate diamonds or squares. Press an almond into each corner of the cookie or sprinkle with sugar and cinammon.
  11. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until golden brown.
What are your favorite holiday cookie recipes?

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