The Spirit.

As the first snowflakes of the season flutter to the frozen ground I find my thoughts drifting to childhood memories of this time of year. Crackling fires, snowman sentinels, cozy socks and silver sprinkles. Momentary snow blindness after an exciting snowball fight. Mismatched pairs of shoes piled in the front hall. The soft glow of peeling glass light bulbs hidden in a snowbank outside the window. The smell of damp mittens slowly drying over an intermittent floor register. All the while A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack lilting in the background.

Over the coming weeks I'll be showing you a few of my favourite recipes to get you in the holiday spirit. Catch-yourself-humming-Jingle-Bells-eat-too-much-fruit-cake-dance-in-your-reindeer-jammies kind of spirit.

Starting with this one. Speculaas Cookies. Think of them as gingerbread cookies with a kick. A seven spice kick. These thin little cookies pack a wallop.

I don't want to be cocky, but I think that my gingerbread cookies could kick your gingerbread cookies butt. Any day of the week. Just saying.

You're probably still thinking, what the heck are Speculaas Cookies? Scooch closer. I'll tell you.


They're these crispy buttery Dutch spice cookies and crazy tasty. You'll love them. Did I mention they were tasty? You might recognize them better if they lacked almonds are were shaped like intricate windmills instead. That's the traditional shape, but apparently it's super difficult to get your hands on century old hand carved cookie forms. Who knew? My Mom has diligently perfected this recipe in a effort to duplicate the taste and texture she remembers from her childhood trips to Holland in between care packages from family.

So this holiday season when you're hauling out your clattering collection of cookie cutters consider making these beauties instead. Sure they're not shaped like trees or snowmen or stars, but they are encrusted with toasted almonds. And remember boys and girls, things encrusted with toasted almonds are your friend. Speculaas Cookies Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Source: My family recipe.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1 cup brown sugar 4 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp cloves 1 tsp nutmeg 1/4 tsp white pepper 1/2 tsp ginger 1/2 tsp cardamom 1/4 tsp mace 4 tbsp warm whole milk 2 cup flour 3 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp salt 2 cup slivered almonds, toasted Printer-Friendly Version

Note: You can buy premixed speculaas spice at some grocery stores and ethnic food stores, but I worked out the measurements of each spice so you can see what's really in it. If you prefer to use the premixed version then sub 2 1/2 tbsp of the mix in place of all the spices.

Preheat the oven to 350 and position a rack in the center. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar. In a small bowl whisk together all the spices then add them to the butter and sugar mixture along with the milk and blend it together.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt then mix it into the wet ingredients.

Form the dough into two even balls and, with your fingers, pat each into the prepared baking sheets. Make sure the dough is spread evenly, paper thin and right to the edges of the baking sheets. This will be time consuming but don't give up. It's totally worth it. Sprinkle them with a liberal amount of toasted almonds then bake them one at a time for about 9 - 10 minutes.

While they're still warm cut each sheet into 24 square cookies using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. Transfer the cut cookies to a rack to cool and enjoy!

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