Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spicing up the European's lives with Speculaas cookies

gluten free speculaas
In the Middle Ages, spices were used to hide the stench and flavor of rotten meats.  By covering up these unwanted attributes, meat could be served or sold to people instead of being sold as animal feed or discarded.  Some of the popular spices were: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and peppercorns.   Marco Polo first brought these spices to Europe from Cathay (China) and Japan.  He also brought silks from the Orient.  For hundreds of years, this overland route was known as the “Silk Road.” Eventually, thieves saw opportunities to ambush and rob unsuspecting traders.  Merchants sought out alternate routes to the Orient.
Some people began traveling by sea.  They sailed south around Africa and then up through the Indian Ocean.  It was risky because of the length of the distance and the climate.  Atlantic hurricanes form off the west coast of Africa. Sailors were traveling through this treacherous area both to and from the Orient.  Ships and cargo were often lost at sea and backers would go bankrupt.  While bandits were not as large a risk, the sea route was still imperfect. 
Christopher Columbus thought he had the solution. He thought sailing west would be the best route.  Traveling by sea avoided the bandits along the Silk Road, and going west instead of south would avoid the frequent storms.

One thing the spices were used for was baking. A common European cookie is called Speculaas. Dutch, German, and French immigrants brought the recipes with them to America.  They are traditionally made in ornate molds for St. Nicholas Day (December 5) and the Christmas holidays, but they're just as delicious just rolled into plain cookies and eaten the summer too! We adapted a recipe from our the Homeschool in the Woods Early Explorers lesson to make it safe for our family's allergies.

measure baking ingredients by weight

The original recipe uses volume measurements for butter, sugar, and flour, but Luke converted the measurements into grams to make things easier to measure (and create less dishes to wash!)  We've included both the original ingredient list and our substitutions. Though they contain a number of spices, these are a fairly mild cookie, so if you prefer a stronger taste of any particular spice, feel free to add a little more.

gluten dairy free speculaas spice cookies

Speculaas (Spice Cookies)


Original recipe ingredients:

1/2 cup butter                                                             
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed                               
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 dash ground cloves
(optional) 1 cup finely chopped nuts

Our recipe:

96 g shortening
192 g dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
360 g gluten free all-purpose mix (King Arthur)
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 whole nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, measure flour and spices. Whisk thoroughly to combine and lighten.  Add to creamed mixture slowly, mixing until combined.

Roll into 1"  balls.  Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, until set and very lightly browned.  (If you are baking more than one tray at a time, rotate them halfway through to make sure they cook evenly.)

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

gluten dairy free spice speculaas cookie



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  1. Thanks for the great idea and recipe! I have a weekly Homemaking Party and would love to have you join up, if you haven’t already. Here’s the link to this week’s party:
    Mrs. Sarah Coller

  2. Thank you for stopping by, and your invitation!

  3. These cookies look delicious! Thanks so much for sharing at Foodie Friends Friday this week!

  4. I love the look of Luke's speculaas. I think they'll make the perfect rainy day activity to try out with my daughters this school holiday!

  5. Oh, I will definitely have to try these. I have been trying to go gluten free. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

  6. Looking forward to trying these this week.

  7. These look so yummy and love that they're gluten-free! Thanks for sharing on the weekend re-Treat link party!

    Britni @ Play. Party. Pin.

  8. As a Dutch family, we are very familiar with speculaas spice! I make my own speculaas blend because I use it all the time (Speculaas granola = yummy!) I look forward to trying out this recipe!


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