How to Make Authentic Speculoos Cookies

How to Make Authentic Speculoos Cookies

(Skip to Recipe)Seasonal Traditions Help Mark Time
My family has several recipes that help us celebrate the passage of seasons and holidays.  We feel bound by tradition to make theses dishes each year.  For instance, we prepare Speculoos cookies for Thanksgiving and St. Nicholas Day.  Below are other seasonal traditions in our home:

In the winter, we prepare French Onion Soup and Belgian Beef Carbonnade.  In Belgium and France, French Onion Soup often helps celebrate the New Year.  It’s perfect in the middle of winter after a night of celebration.  The soup is served in the wee hours of …

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Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta

Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta

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How an Accident Became a Favorite Dish
Sometimes it’s hard to find inspiration for meals when you’re cooking for yourself.  Why spend a lot of time to prepare a dish that you’re probably going to eat quickly?

Well, this past year I’ve made Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta several times.  It started off as an accident.  One day I wanted to make a meal that required little effort with the ingredients in my refrigerator.  And this dish was the happy result.

 
Red Beets
I usually have red beets in my refrigerator, as I love them prepared so many ways.  I’ll throw o…


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English Toffee Made at Home

English Toffee Made at Home

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What’s the Difference between English Toffee and Almond Roca?
English toffee and Almond Roca are pretty much the same thing.  While English toffee describes a hardened caramel topped with chopped nuts and chocolate, Almond Roca refers to a brand name for the same treat.

Brown & Haley Co. from Tacoma, Washington has been making  Almond Roca since 1914. In the United States, Almond Roca has become synonymous for English toffee.  Almost everyone grew up eating toffee wrapped in gold foil out of their instantly-recognizable pink tins.   In our home, we offered either Almo…

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Trustworthy Sourdough Bread at Home

Trustworthy Sourdough Bread at Home

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Sourdough Bread is My Favorite Type of Bread

Over the past twenty years I've made dozens of loaves of bread.  Quick breads, yeast breads and sourdough breads.  Not all breads have turned out perfectly.  Yet, the process of making bread is always enjoyable.

As the name suggests, quick breads do not require time to rise.  Generally you add baking soda or baking powder to the recipe so your baked goods will rise in the oven.  Sometimes you need to add an acidic agent, such as buttermilk or yogurt, to help the baking soda work properly.

Yeast breads use either dry yeast or cake yeast to encourage the dough to rise.  When using yeast, the rising time will not be very long.  Usually one or two hours for each rise.  Even less time for each rise if you use instant dry yeast.

My favorite type of bread, however, is sourdough bread made from a sourdough starter.  Learn how to create, maintain and use sourdough starter with A Basic Sourdough Starter Guide.  Sourdough bread requires more care and patience, yet does not take more active time than quick or yeast breads.  Like for yeast breads, sourdough bread requires you to mix and knead the dough before letting it rise once or twice.  The dough nevertheless needs more time to ferment.  During this fermentation time the sourdough starter will turn the flour and water into a mouth-watering delight.  You can meanwhile go about your other business.

See A Guide For Making Bread at Home for a useful description of the bread-making process.  This guide will lead you through the various steps of making bread as well as familiarize you with some of the vocabulary used.  It will definitely supplement the information you will find in this post.
 

Finding a Trustworthy Sourdough Bread Recipe

The past few months I've tried several recipes for sourdough bread. For example, I followed a couple recipes from Nancy Silverton's legendary book Breads from the La Brea Bakery as well as another recipe from Moro:  The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark.


 

Through these experiences, I have developed this trustworthy fail-proof recipe for you.  It skips some of the steps mentioned in other recipes for shaping and proofing.  Yet, you will not notice the difference and will be pleased to save the effort.
 

Ingredients of Sourdough Bread

This Sourdough Bread recipe calls for 75% organic hard unbleached wheat flour (aka bread flour) and 25% organic high extraction wheat flour (aka brown flour), along with the sourdough starter, water and salt.  That's it!  No fat or sugar added.  Five main ingredients for a bread whose flavor is the right amount of tangy, especially when toasted.  This bread is also fairly light and airy while having a medium density.

Definition of flours

Do not be intimidated by the name for the flours used.  Hard unbleached wheat flour is made from hard red winter wheat, which is great for bread recipes as it's higher in gluten.  It is basically a bread flour that has not been bleached white.  Bread flour, like other white flours, are usually made from whole wheat grain, yet have been processed to remove the bran and wheat germ.  Whole wheat flour is also made from the whole wheat grain, but keeps the bran and wheat germ.  As a result, whole wheat flour is higher in fiber, thus more nutritious and heavy than white flour.

Between whole wheat flour (which contains all the bran and germ) and white flour (which has sifted out the bran and germ) lie several types of brown flour.  Each type indicates the level of ash that remains in the flour after being processed.  The ash in flour comes mainly from the bran, with some coming from the germ or even the endosperm.  Whereas Type 50 flour (white flour) contains about 0.5 % ash, Type 150 (whole wheat flour) contains between 1.5% and 2% ash.  The number given to each type expresses the level of ash remaining in the flour.

The term high extraction refers to a higher level of ash remaining in the flour after being processed.  I've been using Type 85 flour, which is considered to be high extraction flour lying somewhere between white and whole wheat flour (Type 150).  It retains much of the nutritional value of whole wheat flour, yet contains less bran.  Consequently, products made with Type 85 flour will be lighter than products made with Type 150.

Buying Bread Flour

Most supermarkets carry bread flour in their baking goods section.  Popular brands, such as King Arthur Flour and Bob's Red Mills sell bread flour at stores across the United States as well as via their websites.  I love Central Milling's Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus, which is malted hard unbleached wheat flour.   The slight addition of malted barley enhances the taste of my homemade sourdough bread and helps the dough rise even better.  Central Milling offers a wide selection of flours and grains via their online store and at specialty stores nationwide.  I've purchased the flour directly from Central Milling as well as at my favorite neighborhood butcher shop, McCalls Meat and Fish Company.  The price ends up being the same.

Substituting flour made from other grains

The higher the extraction your flour is, the more dense your bread will be because of the extra fiber from the bran and wheat germ.  However, substituting some oat or spelt flour for up to one-fourth of the bread flour (hard unbleached wheat flour) will give the sourdough bread a different texture.  Oat and spelt flours, for instance, tend to make the bread more soft and tender while giving it nutty overtones.

Likewise, substituting some of the Type 85 flour with flour milled from other grains, such as rye flour or buckwheat flour, will influence your bread's taste.  Personally I enjoy substituting about one-fourth of the Type 85 flour with rye and/or buckwheat flour to give my bread a flavor that has more depth.

While buckwheat and oat flours are gluten free, spelt and rye flours contain some gluten, yet less than in wheat flour.  As flours containing no or little gluten reduce the rise and elasticity of your bread, I recommend substituting only up to one-fourth of the total wheat flour indicated in the recipe with flour made from other grains.

Use this recipe as a starting point to practice your bread-making skills.  Later, maintain the same general proportions when substituting in other flours to try new combinations.  You might need a little more or less flour than indicated in the recipe, depending on the humidity in the room and in the flour.  After making bread a couple times, you'll develop an instinct to know how hydrated you want your dough.
 

Time and Patience will Improve Your Sourdough Bread

Waiting patiently during the entire bread-making process will probably be your hardest task.  This recipe requires between 24 and 36 hours from start to finish.  However, you will only need to work about 30 to 40 minutes of this time to produce a full-flavored and super tasty sourdough bread.  You might want to skip steps or shorten the time needed for fermentation or a rise, but please resist.

The longer the dough ferments, the more complex and sour your bread's flavor will be.  Be careful though not to let the dough ferment or proof too much time.  Otherwise your bread might become flat when baked, as it won't have the spring necessary to rise a last time in the oven.  In short, as long as your dough is hungry it will continue to ferment and grow in flavor and size.  When it stops feeding, it will become less active and more lethargic.  There is, therefore, a limit on how long your dough can ferment or proof without needing to be fed more flour and water.  Remember your dough is alive and will only stop its activity when baked in the oven.

If you start making sourdough bread on a regular basis, you will not even think about the time it takes.  For instance, you will create your sponge (the first mixing of the sourdough starter with water and flour) before going to bed.  Then you will knead in more flour and salt in the morning before leaving the newly formed dough to rise for the bulk fermentation (first rise). Later in the afternoon or early evening you will shape and proof your bread (second rise) a couple hours before putting your dough in the refrigerator to ferment slowly overnight.  The next morning you will bake your dough in the oven.

Below is a timetable for the entire sourdough bread-making process.

 

Sourdough Bread Making Timetable-min

Enjoy the warmth and comforting smells while your bread bakes (between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on its size).  Let it then cool for an hour before tasting it.  Below you will see some ways I've enjoyed my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread slices with 3 toppings
Toasted sourdough bread with honey, cherry jam and tomatillo jam

 

Sliced Sourdough Bread honey
Sliced Sourdough Bread with honey

Once you try your sourdough bread, you will be hooked!  You will immediately start planning your next loaf!


 

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Korean-Style Green Chili Pepper Pickles

Korean-Style Green Chili Pepper Pickles

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Why I love Korean Food Best
If there’s one Asian cuisine I love, it would have to be Korean food.  Korean dishes have a distinct flavor and spice.

The variety of their side dishes is also great!  So many to choose from! Not only can you use the side dishes as appetizers, but you can also eat them alone or with a little rice.


 
One Exceptional Side Dish
My favorite side dish is probably Korean Style Green Chili Pepper Pickles, also known as Gochu Jangaiji. They are fermented and seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce.  After about a week of fermentation, they make…

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Beet Dandelion Pesto – Nutritious and Tasty Greens

Beet Dandelion Pesto – Nutritious and Tasty Greens

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What Inspired this Beet Dandelion Pesto Recipe?
Recently I shared with you my recipe for Dandelion Pesto, prepared primarily with dandelion greens.   My trusty Dandelion Pesto recipe inspired me to make this new Beet Dandelion Pesto.  Yesterday I purchased some lovely organic beets and needed a way to use the beet greens.

 
How to use Beet and Dandelion Greens
I often have high hopes for beet greens.  When I purchase beets, which is quite frequently, I try to select beets with lovely greens still attached.  Beet greens are very nutritious.  It would be such a sha…


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Traditional Matzo Kugel for Passover

Traditional Matzo Kugel for Passover

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What is Matzo Kugel?
Matzo Kugel is a pudding made often during the Passover holiday.  Although most people eat a sweet version of Matzo Kugel, prepared with fruit, eggs and nuts, they can also eat a savory version featuring vegetables.

 
Why do we eat Matzo during Passover?
During the eight days of Passover, observers should avoid eating five types of grains which rise:  wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oat.  The only exception allowed during Passover is eating one of these grains in the form of an unleavened flatbread, today known as matzo, matza or matzah.


Ok,…

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Healthy Tofu Vegan Pancakes for Breakfast

Healthy Tofu Vegan Pancakes for Breakfast

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How to Make Vegan Pancakes even Healthier
 
Family Tradition
My son is visiting me from Belgium.  This morning he asked for pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are probably my kids’ favorite dish of mine for breakfast.

When they were small I would often make them on Sunday mornings.  I always tried to make them healthy(ish) by using whole wheat and rye flours along with all purpose flour.  Sometimes I would add rolled oats, ground flaxseed, bananas or some other nutritious ingredient.  Usually I added buttermilk, yet sometimes in a crunch I added yogurt instead.

Wh…


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Bumbleberry Pie – Mixed Berries and Apple

Bumbleberry Pie – Mixed Berries and Apple

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What is Bumbleberry Pie?
At first I thought Bumbleberry Pie was a sweet baked good featuring bumbleberries.  Little did I know that a Bumbleberry Pie is actually a pie made with mixed berries (usually three types of berries), and sometimes includes apple or rhubarb.

My brother asked me to make a raspberry pie for his birthday.  He then added if raspberry was not possible, he’d like a blackberry or apple pie instead.


Fresh raspberries and blackberries can be expensive at this time of the year (springtime), even in California where tasty berries grown locally or in Mex…

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Heart-healthy Cinnamon-baked Pears

Heart-healthy Cinnamon-baked Pears

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Is there such a thing as a heart-healthy dessert?
Surprisingly there is. Sweets and treats need not always focus on large contents of sugar. If you choose the ingredients carefully, you can prepare healthy desserts for your entire family.

Ingredients with high fat content, such as heavy dollops of cream and butter, contain saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol levels in the body. High cholesterol can lead to heart diseases, kidney problems, and many other diseases caused generally by having a bad diet.


 
Popular media influence on our diet
While popul…

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Roasted Carrot Rosemary Garlic Soup

Roasted Carrot Rosemary Garlic Soup

What to do with Fresh Rosemary?
A good friend brought me several branches of fresh rosemary from her garden when she came to dinner last week.  Immediately my home smelled more outdoorsy and clean.   All week I enjoyed the hint of rosemary in the air.

For some reason I cannot leave all this fresh rosemary around without trying to find some way to use it all.  It’s impossible for me to let good rosemary go to waste.  I therefore started to remove the rosemary pines off the stems to put the pines out to dry.  After about forty minutes, I had removed only a third of the rosemary.  So much mor…

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Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna

Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna

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Vegan vs. Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna
Recently I prepared two eggplant lasagnas side by side.  A Vegan Eggplant Lasagna and a Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna, as I wanted to compare their tastes.

In both eggplant lasagnas I used my Vegan Tomato Sauce for All Occasions as well as a single large eggplant sliced thinly.  You can of course use your own tomato sauce if you prefer.  The only difference between the two lasagnas was the type of cheese used.


In order to avoid duplication, I recommend your reading my post on Vegan Eggplant Lasagna.  You will learn there more about…

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Vegan Eggplant Lasagna without Pasta

Vegan Eggplant Lasagna without Pasta

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The Vegan Eggplant Lasagna Challenge
I have made vegetarian lasagne countless times.  Yet, I’ve always added cheese to each layer.  Sometimes I reduce the amount of cheese I use by mixing ricotta cheese with eggplant puree together.  I’ll have to share my vegetarian lasagna some time, as it’s my son’s favorite.

 
What is Vegan Eggplant Lasagna?
Last week I seemed destined to make Vegan Eggplant Lasagna.  Well, eggplant lasagna is perhaps a misnomer because it had absolutely no pasta of any kind inside.  Yet, the term lasagna seems to fit because three layers of t…


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Vegan Tomato Sauce for All Occasions

Vegan Tomato Sauce for All Occasions

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A Versatile Vegan Tomato Sauce
I usually try to feature here recipes for tasty healthy versions of otherwise ordinary dishes.  Or recipes for extraordinary dishes that will wow your family and guests.

Most people already know how to make an Italian-style tomato sauce to use on pasta.  However, here is a tasty healthy version of a tomato sauce that can be used in many of your favorite dishes.  Several friends have asked me to share this recipe for Vegan Tomato Sauce, as it is as yummy as it is nourishing.


I often use this Vegan Tomato Sauce in my vegetarian lasagna as…

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Dandelion Pesto

Dandelion Pesto

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Why make Dandelion Pesto?
Dandelion pesto has brightened up many springtime dishes in past years.  In Belgium, I sometimes gathered the leaves of this wildflower from my backyard lawn to add to salads, soups and other dishes.

 
Dandelion greens grow wild
Picking dandelion greens are an annual tradition that marks the arrival of spring.  Although you can find dandelions all year long, the peak of their growth is during springtime.  Most dandelion greens go unnoticed, except to gardeners who get annoyed by the stubborn growth of this weed as it spreads across their…


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