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Catholic Recipe: Speculaas or Speculatius VII


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  Optional: Icing
  • confectioners' sugar
  • water, egg white or lemon juice
  • food coloring
  • Details

  • Yield: 3 dozen cookies
  • Prep Time: N/A
  • Difficulty: • •
  • Cost: $$$$
  • For Ages: All
  • Origin:

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Also Called: St. Nicholas Cookies; Speculaus; Speculatius; Kris Kringle Cookies; Dutch spice cookies

These cookies, also called Speculatius, Speculaus, and Speculations, are claimed by various countries: they are traditional in Belgium, Holland, and the Rhineland, and are served especially on St. Nicholas Day. They are sometimes cut out into little men or animals; in Holland they are frequently pressed with a windmill motif. But they were also often cut out into the shape of St. Nicholas himself, dressed as a bishop, holding his bishop's staff. 1 have never been able to find such cookie cutters in this country; 1 finally resorted to cutting out St. Nicholas figures myself-and discovered, to my surprise, that it is really very easy to do. The shape is, after all, a simple one. You can also make cookies, with or without cutters, to recall other aspects of Nicholas's life and work: such as the three young girls to whom he threw the three bags of gold or the three little boys whom he brought back to life, or the sailors whom he saved from the storm. Lots of possibilities here.

You might find these delicious gingerbread cookies a nice way to begin your Advent-Christmas baking.


In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind.

Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, start the chilling process in the freezer: leave the dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch. If you are going to make large figures-over about 6 inches--you might roll out the dough a little thicker, to about 1/4 inch: the figures will be less fragile. Cut out with cookie cutters, or with a sharp knife. You can also just cut the dough in squares, if you prefer. This dough can also be used with a cookie mold, or can be molded by hand.

Place the cookies on lightly buttered baking sheets and bake at 350° F. for 10 to 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Large or thick cookies will take somewhat longer. If you like your cookies soft, remove them from the oven when they are just set the longer the baking time, the harder the gingerbread.

Optional: Paint when cool. These cookies--especially when baked in the form of St. Nicholas--are terrific fun to paint with colored icing.


In little pots or plastic containers, mix confectioners' sugar with a little bit of water (or lightly beaten egg white, or lemon juice) and a few drops of food coloring, to produce the desired shades and the desired consistency for painting. Apply with small paintbrushes.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen cookies or fewer large figures

Variations: This recipe makes a fairly mild gingerbread. If you like your gingerbread really spicy, you can increase slightly and proportionately the amounts of all the spices.

This recipe, with a few small additions, can also be used to make Peppernuts.

If cutting the dough into squares, you might like to sprinkle them with slivered almonds; this is traditional and delicious.

You can also press patterns into this dough using Springerle molds.

Recipe Source: Continual Feast, A by Evelyn Birge Vitz, Ignatius Press, San Francisco , 1985
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