I wish I could say this recipe was easy for me to make. I wish I could say that as a relatively experienced baker, I thought of the idea for Speculoos Shortbread, then created this recipe flawlessly and executed it perfectly on the first try.
That would be a lie.
As easy as shortbread is- a ratio of one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour- I thought I would just get creative and play it all loosey-goosey with it. Break the rules…be a rebel.
Maybe wear a leather jacket, who knows.
To be fair, the idea did enter my brain organically- the Speculoos Cookie Butter was a gift from a co-worker and I knew immediately that I wanted to turn it into shortbread cookies. But then I put it off for a bit because the holidays got crazy and we hosted our first husband-and-wife Christmas dinner. It was awesome. And every time I went in my pantry, it kept catching my eye and I would silently vow: Soon, sweet Cookie Butter. Soon.
Well, now actually.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Speculoos phenomenon, here’s the quick version. Speculoos is a spiced shortbread cookie from the Netherlands that’s typically served around the holidays, and dates as far back as 1870. Almost all European countries have their versions of these spice cookies. There are French versions, German, British, Polish and of course most of Scandinavia has their own versions too. Swedish versions usually involve cardamom and/or almonds in some form. We really do love cardamom and almonds- they’re just so good when added to, well, EVERYTHING.
The Dutch became selling the cookies worldwide in 2007. Around that time two competitors entered the Belgian TV Show de Bedenkers – or “The Inventors” with their idea for a Speculoos Cookie Butter spread made from the crushed up cookies, spices, margarine and oil. Now they didn’t win, however, but their idea was picked up by a huge food distribution company named Lotus Foods, and Danish production began.
The Speculoos Cookie Butter craze didn’t start here in the US until 2015, when Delta Airlines paired up with Lotus Foods to introduce the cookies with their coffee during flights. The cookies became such a cult phenomenon, especially when paired with coffee, that sales and requests for the cookies took off. Soon the company even changed the name for it’s US customers from Speculoos to Biscoff because it was easier for Americans to pronounce since it sounded like biscuits and they went so well with coffee.
The idea for this Shortbread cookie came from reading up on how Swedes use the cookie butter- that is, of course, to bake (So proud). It’s used to make cakes and cookies, most notably in Dammsugare (also called Punsch-rolls) that is flavored with cocoa and putsch liqueur and dipped in fluorescent green marzipan sheets. I wanted to make the cookie butter in a shortbread form since that’s what they originally were- only with almond extract as a nod to the Swedes and an espresso glaze as a reminder of how they originally were marketed to the US.
Using Cookie Butter in the actual dough proved to be a challenge, however. The first round I created a recipe that used entirely cookie butter and no actual butter. The flavor was spot-on what I wanted but they fell apart SO quickly you could barely handle them. Did I have too much flour? Not enough fat? The second round I used half butter and half-cookie butter, even double checked my weight for each item -but the same problem remained. They were a little better but still too fragile to eat without crumbling. Queue my sad face. And my mad face because I was determined to research why this wasn’t working. In the end I came to the conclusion that since Cookie Butter is made with margarine, not real butter, it behaves differently when baked. Margarine contains a good amount of water and can cause crumbly textures since it lacks the fat needed to coat all the flour granules. Who knew?
Back to the drawing board, right? Well, sort of. I worked around it by sort of reverse-engineering the spices and adding them to a classic, foolproof shortbread recipe. And it worked BEAUTIFULLY. I did end of using the actual cookie butter in the delicious espresso glaze I made so really in the end it worked out exactly how it was supposed to. The shortbread had the best texture, it was soft yet the top was crispy and had that toothsomeness that only comes from dense shortbread. And the flavor was subtly reminiscent of Speculoos, but the glaze really hit home with that hit of the cookie butter to round out that flavor, with the bitter edge of espresso to complement all that sweetness. I couldn’t have been happier with how these turned out, as did all my friends and co-workers I shared it with. The pride of a baker comes when you see people really enjoying the fruits of your labor- it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.
So even if I did have to go backwards to move forwards, I learned some valuable things about the science of baking- which for a home cook is a trial-and-error experience. But I also learned a little about myself- I didn’t give up when it didn’t work at first, and I was proud that I took it upon myself to learn the WHY behind the failed test recipes. I can’t say when I started out baking that I would’ve kept going after the first two disaster rounds- I might’ve just given up, sat on the couch and ate the rest of the cookie butter with a spoon (which let’s be real- probably wouldn’t feel like LOSING at all). I knew what I wanted the recipe to be and what my creative instinct told me it could be- and I listened to that little voice that we so often disregard because reason or self-doubt tells us not to.
I hope, however, this inspires some home-bakers out there to learn to trust your creative instincts, but also know that there is almost always going to be a gap between what you can do…and what you don’t know. Your goal every time you get in the kitchen should be to do everything you can to make that gap smaller and smaller.
Speculoos Shortbread with Cookie Butter Espresso Glaze
Yield: 6-8 Wedges
½ C. White granulated sugar
1 C. (2 sticks) Butter, at room temperature or slightly colder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ C. All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon (I prefer Penzey’s Ceylon Cinnamon)
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom, ground
1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pray a 9 inch round baking pan with non stick spray and parchment paper if desired.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on, cream the butter, sugar, and extracts until pale and well incorporated.
In the meantime, in a large bowl, whisk your flour with your salt and spices.
Slowly add the flour to the mix while mixer is on low. A crumbly dough will form. You can add an optional 1 tbsp water at this point if it doesn’t come together.
Press into the bottom of a 9 inch round cake pan, using a plastic wrap if needed. Dock the dough with a fork or toothpick all over to allow air to escape.
Bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes. When done, let cool on a cooling rack for10 minutes. Then take them out and cut them into the wedges immediately. Let them cool completely once cut.
For Cookie Butter Espresso Glaze:
¼ C. Milk
2 Tbsp Cookie Butter (I used Trader Joe’s Version)
½ tsp espresso Powder (I love Williams-Sonoma’s Version)
¼ C. Powdered Sugar
In a small bowl, warm up the milk in the microwave for about 20 seconds, until warm/hot to the touch.
Stir in the cookie butter and espresso powder and whisk until combined.
Add in the powdered sugar until the glaze is thickened and at the right consistency. (May take more/less powdered sugar)
Drizzle all over the cookies before serving! Enjoy!