Over the past two years, I’ve started a new tradition with my kids. Some time during the Christmas break we get together and make our own speculaas cookies.
Speculaas (or, sometimes speculoos) cookies are a traditional Dutch shortbread-like cookie, made with a spice mix similar to pumpkin pie or ‘winter warmer’ blends: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, anise, and a bit of white pepper for some extra spiciness. It was one of the few Dutch items that we had as kids, despite each of my four grandparents immigrating from Holland in the 1950s. They, like many Dutch immigrants, were intent on fitting in and creating new lives here in Canada and didn’t pass on a strong sense of Dutch identity.
As a kid, my parents would sometimes stop at a small Dutch grocery in a nearby town when we passed through. They would buy treats such as salty black licorice, anijsblokjes to mix into warm milk, or Queen Wilhelmina (or King) peppermints. Us kids would get a box of speculaas cookies to share. We loved them: their creative shapes, the crispy, buttery texture and the spicy flavor.
In the Netherlands, speculaas cookies are traditionally made for Saint Nick around the Christmas holidays and, when I was thinking of ways to create family traditions over the holidays, I latched onto this idea. I ordered some speculaas planks from Holland, figured out a recipe, and we made speculaas (something we never did as kids, we always had the store-bought ones). The kids loved the process: squeezing the dough into the moulds and carefully extracting the delicate shapes.
It was last year, when we began making speculaas that I also began experimenting with this recipe to use up some of the excess of speculaas we had (we made some big batches…). It’s a twist on a classic fruit crisp that my mom would make for us: the speculaas in the crust adds both a extra crunchy texture and also the spiciness. Adding bourbon gives an extra depth of flavor to the sweet, saucy side of this, and I’ve been loving the combination of pear and cranberry this winter, a balance of sweet and tart.
I’ve included the link to the speculaas recipe that I began with so you can make your own, and if you’re going to make them for the crumble there’s no need to make the fancy shapes – you’re just going to break them up anyways! I’ve made this with store-bought speculaas as well, and they taste great in it too. I’ve sometimes found speculaas in the ‘International aisle’ of the local grocery store. If you don’t want to make the cookies and can’t find speculaas to buy, a crispy ginger cookie would probably be the closest substitute.
Like all fruit crisps or crumbles, this one is simple and quick to put together. And, the part I always loved most about when my mom made crumble? You can eat the leftovers for breakfast!
Speculaas Bourbon Crumble with Pear and Cranberries
Speculaas cookies were a favorite childhood treat, and one of the few reminders of our Dutch ancestry. Here, I've used them to create a 'twist' on a classic crumble. The cookies add some texture and real 'crunch' to the crumble, as well as a distinctive speculaas spiciness. Balanced with (a generous helping of) bourbon, the fruit is both warm and bright, sweet and tart, and when this all comes together it's a creative and familiar treat the whole family can enjoy. It's simple to put together and a great way to finish up a meal, warm from the oven and with a scoop of ice cream!
- 4 pears (approximately 4 cups, or 650g), chopped
- 3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- 125 grams speculaas cookies, crumbled (I use this recipe and, if you're making them for this recipe, there's no need for the mold - we're just crumbling them anyways. Store bought also works fine.
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 ounces bourbon
- splash of vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Pull out a small/medium baking dish, or 6 deep ramekins. The size doesn't matter too much here, as long as it fits all the ingredients - don't stress to much about this.
Chop pears, mix them with the cranberries and spread them out in the baking dish.
In a small mixing bowl, combine speculaas, flour melted butter and brown sugar. Set aside.
In a small pot, combine water, sugar, cornstarch, bourbon, and vanilla and bring just to a boil to thicken the sauce.
Pour sauce over the pears in the dish, then spread speculaas crumble over the top.
Bake until sauce is bubbling and top is browning, approximately 20 minutes.
Wait a few minutes before serving as it's too hot to eat right from the over. Experience tells me this...
Leftovers are terrific the next morning for breakfast!