Mandatory NonScience Wednesday: Batty Sugar Cookies with a Speculaas Glaze

Baking. I love it. I have since I was a teenager, and I like to think that I'm good at it - compliments on the food I make, requests for recipes - it's one of my favourite past times. When I first moved to Germany, the flat that I lived in didn't have a proper oven, so I was unable to properly bake for over two years (!). It was a dark time of microwave pudding and undercooked garlic bread. My current flat, however, has a spacious (albeit temperamental) oven and oh have I been taking advantage of it. Additionally, most baking results in sweet treats. My boyfriend Erik often calls me a 'snoeper,' the Dutch word for someone with a sweet tooth, so baking is pretty much the best thing ever, nearly a zen experience.

When it comes to cooking and baking, I either use, a cookbook, or look to food blogs for inspiration. If you look to the right of this post, you'll see two that I recommend. The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Smitten Kitchen. Both are similar in format and have collaborated in the past, but both fulfill different needs for me as a reader. Ree Drummond, the eponymous Pioneer Woman, is from ranchland of the US, and the food and palette that she works with reminds me of home. Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman started her blog about the trials of cooking in a small NYC kitchen, and each recipe she puts out has at least one ingredient I'm not familiar with, but am willing to try. It's a good balance. So consider this post an homage to them, or at least a misguided attempt to combine two styles into one baking post.

While I've been studying in Germany for the past two and a half years, nearly eight months of that time was spent in The Netherlands for my thesis research. During that time, I was exposed to many different sweets. Some were super delicious (appelflap and hagelslag for life, yo),  and some were awful (stroop and drop, gross). Speculaas ('Speculoos' in English, 'Spekulatius' in German) falls into that first category, super delicious. A spicy sugar cookie, they're most common around the beginning of December for Sinterklaas. I made sure to pick up some speculaas spice mix before going back to Germany this past Christmas.

So, on to today's recipe!

 Batty Sugar Cookies with a Speculaas Glaze

I defended my thesis back in January, and in typical Kim thinking, I had a last minute idea to make bat-shaped speculaas cookies for the presentation. It was perfect - I was studying bats in the Netherlands, what could be more appropriate? Swept up in the plan, I went ahead and ordered a cheap bat-shaped cookie cutter... three days before the presentation. Naturally, it didn't arrive until after my defense. So this scheme of speculaas and bats has not been realized... until now.

So yesterday afternoon, I gathered up my ingredients, and raced to get this shot while there was still natural light out. I had decided earlier that day to forgo the traditional speculaas format with the spices in the cookie, and wanted to try out imparting the spices into a glaze. The simple sugar cookie recipe that I adapted can be found here.

I'm serious when I say sugar cookie, there is a lot of sugar in this recipe. Pictured above is all of the sugar used within the cookie, not including the sugary glaze on top. I'm still coming off of the sugar high.

Now, my North American readers, one of the hardest adjustments I had to make to living in Europe was how they measure ingredients here. They weigh everything, meaning that measuring cups don't exist and that a cup of sugar in the recipe isn't equal in weight to a cup of flour. Luckily, I have a great digital scale and this conversion website. So, the first step then is to recalculate your ingredients!

This recipe uses 191 g of white sugar, plus an additional 130 g of powdered sugar as recommended through several reviews of the original recipe. Finding vanilla extract in Germany is rarer than finding a penguin in Tahiti, so I use the very common replacement of vanilla sugar instead. I reduced the additional powdered sugar to 100 g for the two packets of vanilla bourbon sugar I use.

Take this truckload of sugar and cream it with 172 g of room temperature butter and don't look directly at it lest you change your mind about making sugar cookies. You are making sugar cookies and that's final.

What did I just say! Don't look directly at that solid that is butter and three types of sugar. When the mixture is homogenous, grab two beautiful organic eggs.

Gorgeous. Look at the eggs for a few minutes in the light of day, that 40 minute period when it's not raining, and appreciate the homely feeling that comes over you. You are like a mother hen to your flatmates, providing them with sugary goods. Add the two eggs along with a pinch of salt, 310 g of flour, and 4 g of baking powder to the butter mixture and combine.

Now, this is a personal preference, but if you are like me, this is the best time of the entire process: Taste the batter. Is it too salty, not salty enough? Maybe it needs more sugar (doubtful). You know what, try it a second time to make sure. Don't worry about eating raw egg, not trying the dough is far worse. This is the last time you can do something about the taste before it goes in the oven. Once you're satisfied, divide the dough into two balls, wrap in plastic, and place in the fridge for at least one hour, if not overnight.

I killed two hours by listening to a super podcast: Invisibilia, hosted by Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller of NPR. It's about the things that we cannot see that affect our lives and minds (so, a lot of psychology and science mixed with a human interest angle). One podcast is an hour long, and there's six out so far. Utterly captivating, I highly recommend.

So, two podcasts later, it was time to get the dough out of the fridge and move on to rolling. First, preheat your oven to 200 C.

It's necessary to have a sassy bowl to hold your flour for rolling. Roll out to your desired thickness; I went for about 1.5 cm thick (in retrospect, I recommend 2.5 cm).

If the dough is sticky, just flour it up a bit. Some prefer to use powdered sugar instead of flour in this process, but I cannot fathom using even more sugar at this point. Transfer the shapes to a baking pan with parchment paper ('backpapier' here) and bake for 7 or 8 minutes. Forget that your oven is a cruel fire demon likely named Calcifer, as it runs super hot and sounds a bit like Billy Crystal...

... because sometimes this happens. And when I say 'sometimes,' I mean 'most times.' So if your oven runs hot, or you can't afford to burn any, I recommend putting the heat down to 140 or 150 C.

After their trial by fire, these are the chosen ones. Before you glaze them, though, they must cool, otherwise the glaze won't set. So settle in for two more podcasts and gather your supplies for the glaze.

Yeah, so the composition on this picture is not as good as the first ingredients picture. This is your dose of reality. The kitchen is now a bit of a hot mess from your baking, you're tired, it's not fun anymore, and you have a stomach ache from eating raw dough that inexplicably could not be shaped into bat shapes. Deal with it.

The glaze is the traditional glaze recipe: 200 g powdered sugar that has been sifted + 25 g softened butter + little additions of warm water while whisking until you get desired consistency, with the added kick of... an unknown amount of speculaas spice mix. Essentially, I added spice mix to the glaze until I got the taste I wanted. Very unscientific.

Lay out unwanted copies of your thesis on the table to catch excess glaze.

Now, put the glaze into a plastic bag and cut one of the bottom corners -- oh wait, my bag doesn't have corners (weird) -- okay, just cut something to make the glaze leave the bag in an orderly(ish) fashion. Make sure to glaze the ugly cookies first.

You glaze the nice cookies last because by that time, you have figured out how to do it in a way that isn't totally terrible. Realize that you have a lot of glaze leftover, grumble about proportions, and place in fridge. Figure out what to do with the excess later. Let the finished cookies set overnight by going to your room and going on Tumblr until it's suddenly two a.m. and then roll into bed.

And there you have it! Delectable sugar cookies with a speculaas glaze. Perfection. Too bad I don't eat the things I bake - once I've tasted the dough, which tastes infinitely better than the baked product, I don't have the desire to eat them. That's why I undertake the optional final step:

The next day, pack some up into your favourite plastic container and ship to your Dutch boyfriend (and family). Include a note that took you three attempts to write legibly, then schlep to the post office and hope that they don't lose it during transport.

Batty Sugar Cookies with a Speculaas Glaze

172 g softened butter or margarine
190g granulated sugar
100g powdered sugar
Two packets of vanilla-bourbon sugar
2 eggs
310g all-purpose flour, keep extra on hand for rolling
4g baking powder
pinch of salt

100 g powdered sugar
15 g softened butter
Speculaas spice to taste (try 30 g and then keep adding as needed)
1 to 2 tablespoons of warm water
Food colouring (optional)

Cream butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until combined. A silicon spatula is the best tool for this, no need for a mixer. Add eggs and mix. Add flour, salt, and baking powder and combine - make sure that you don't overmix once the flour is in! Divide dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour, maximum overnight.

To roll out cookies, preheat oven to 200 C and begin to roll out cookies on floured surface. If dough is sticky, make sure to use plenty of flour. Thickness of dough is up to you, but I recommend 2.5 cm thick for the most intact cookie. If you have a bat-shaped cookie cutter, use to make cookie cutout. Place cutouts on a cookie tray covered parchment paper, they don't need a lot of room in between. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are brown and tops are no longer shiny. Place on rack or plate to cool completely. Remember to turn the oven off.

To prepare glaze, sift 80 g of powdered sugar into a medium sized mixing bowl and add approximately 30 g of speculaas spice mix. Mix in butter vigorously, then begin to add water in small increments, whisking the mixture continuously. Adjust amounts of sugar and water until you reach desired consistency - should form a thin glaze that packs a lot of flavour. You can also play with food colouring to get desired colour. Transfer glaze into plastic bag, cut a very tiny corner, and glaze cookies with the amount of glaze you desire. Alternately, you can dip or spread the glaze on the cookies. Let the glaze set overnight. Cookies should stay edible for about a week.


Tomorrow I will be looking at citizen science and crowdsourcing research. If you want cookies, please come to my place and eat them! What will I do next Wednesday? Suggestions are welcome.


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