Recipe: Speculaas – Dutch spiced cookies

Speculaas recipe.jpg

Speculaas biscuits – delicious spiced cookies from The Netherlands – are a Christmas standard in my house. They have the spicy and aroma that just shouts warm, cosy, Christmas, and they fill the house with most gorgeous fragrance as they are baking. They are crunchy (and stay crunchy if stored in an air-tight box), very melt-in-the-mouth, and, as my kids will confirm, very moreish.

Best of all, they are so easy to make Рreally almost impossible to get wrong. The dough is super-forgiving too Рyou can make double the quantity listed here, and make lots more biscuits, or refrigerate or freeze the dough (after stage 3 of the recipe Рrolled into a thick disc and wrapped in greaseproof paper and a freezer bag) for biscuit emergencies. They are very sturdy biscuits too Рtraditionally the dough is used to fill moulds like these, and make amazingly decorative cookies, so if you are searching for a cookie recipe to make cut-out cookies for gifts or for your Christmas tree, this one is ideal.

First up you will need to make the spice mix. This is my preferred mix – but if you search you will find loads of variations, or you can buy premixed Speculaas spices (which might be cheaper if you are not the kind of person who has all these spices already on their shelves).

Speculaas Spice Mix

  • Servings: makes 7 teaspoonfuls
  • Print

  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (if you are grating whole nutmeg, then that’s about 1/3 nutmeg)
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground fennel
  • 1/2 tsp ground mace

This will make loads more than you need for one batch of cookies – but it will keep well for a couple of months in a screw top jar. You can use it to make more cookies, or to spice up apple pies (delicious!), baked apples, granola, muffins (I have a recipe for Speculaas-spiced muffins which I will be sharing soon) fruit cakes and chocolate cakes…

speculaas-recipe-close-up

Here’s how you make the biscuits – I get about 12 cookies using this quantity of dough and a 2.5 inch (that’s about 6cm) round cutter.

Speculaas biscuits / cookies

Ingredients

  • 100g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp speculaas pice mix
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g light muscovado sugar (or dark if you prefer a darker coloured biscuit)
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 75g softened butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C, Gas 4, or 350F. Line a flat baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl – I fit it is easiest to do this with my hands, but you can use a mixer/food processor if you like, just take care not to overwork the dough.
  3. Bring the mixture together with your hands until you have a smooth dough. Flatten to a disc about the 6 inches (15cm) across, and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about 1/4in (6mm) thickness.
  5. Cut biscuits with cookie cutters and transfer to the baking tray.
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes until they are gently golden-brown. It’s always a good idea to check the biscuits after about 10 minutes, if your oven is anything like mine, there will be some uneveness in baking and you can turn the tray round to get a more even bake.
  7. After you have taken them out of the oven, leave to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire wrack to finish cooling.

A quick and lovely way to decorate the cookies is to sprinkle them with flaked almonds before baking. But they are also great for decorative icing if you have talent in that direction, because the biscuits bake really flat. I am useless with the piping bag, so inspired by something I saw over at Martha Stewart, I decided to stencil mine with icing sugar. It was a bit fiddly, but much easier (for me) than proper icing.

My technique was to paint each cooled cookie with a very thin icing mix (I mixed 3 tablespoons of icing sugar with one tablespoon of water – it was plenty for 12 cookies), and then to use a snowflake stencil (I used a 2 inch craft punch to cut the stencil out of card) and a very fine sieve to sprinkle icing sugar over the stencil. It’s important to do one cookie at a time because otherwise the icing starts to dry and the icing sugar doesn’t stick so well. I added a little extra sprinkle once I was finished with the stencil (partly to cover up my smudges!). Definitely a fun thing to do with your kids if you don’t mind a floor full of icing sugar…

More Christmas recipes are imminent… I have been without a cooker for over a week now (difficult times in the Very Berry household with malfunctioning ovens and dodgy electrics), so am super-excited to be baking again.ūüôā

Sewing Tools of Note (13): A rotary cutter with an angle

sewing-tools-of-note

After I published my last ‘Sewing Tools of Note’ about tiny needles, Kerry (my blog namesake, who is definitely one of my mentors, she crops up so much in these posts!) left a comment mentioning how important it is to use the right needle when hand sewing because it helps to avoid hand and wrist strain. Such an important point, and very significant to anyone who struggles with joint and muscular pain, whatever the cause. It got my thinking about the changes I have had to make recently to protect my wrist.

Earlier this year I had an encounter with a pub door (I promise you I had only had half a pint of beer) and managed go through the door, whilst leaving my thumb¬†caught in the handle on the other side… The result of this ‘amusing’ (or so my friends thought…) incident was a trip to A&E, a wrist sprain and quite a lot of ongoing soreness. After this little incident,¬†I really struggled with¬†using a rotary cutter to cut my fabric, so I thought I would investigate alternatives to the standard Olfa rotary cutter that I’ve been using. I was recommended to try the TrueCut Rotary cutter¬†– which has an angled handle design that aligns the wrist more naturally, placing your weight over the blade and eliminating stress in the wrist and arm.

truecut-rotary-cutter-and-threads

You can buy the cutter with special fancy rulers, but I just bought the cutter and use it with my standard quilting rulers. ¬†It was odd at first, because the blade is in a slightly different position to standard cutters, and it took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that you have to use the cutter in¬† a certain way. But I soon got used to it, and have found that it makes a huge difference, because I don’t have to press so hard to cut the fabric, and because of the way my hand is positioned, it takes the pressure of my wrist. I love it, and wouldn’t go back to the other kind now.

I even fell for the little marketing point – you can personalize the handle with pictures, fabric or photos – I found this bit of selvedge that seemed to fit the bill!

true-cut-rotary-cutter-with-pencil-cate

So using a rotary cutter hurts, perhaps it’s time to make a change. I’d be really interested to read about other ways that people have found to protect hands, wrists, shoulders, arms, and backs whilst sewing and crafting in general. It’s something I struggle with on and off, and I am sure other readers do too, so please share your ideas so I can do a bit of investigating and reporting back.

This post is another in my ongoing bloggy series on my favourite sewing tools Рyou can find more articles here on the main Sewing Tools of Note listings

A day in my working life…

Last week I joined in with the Stoke-on-Trent City Wide Artist Census Day organised by the artist in residence here at Acava Studios: Spode Works, Nicola Winstanley.

Stoke-on-Trent Artists Census

It was an exciting day, clicking on the hashtags on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and seeing all the other creative activity going on in the city, especially as we all get together to support Stoke’s bid to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. It was really exciting to hear that, according to Trendinalia UK, #stokeartistatwork and #sotaaw were 6th in the top 20 trending topics in the UK for a while…

I posted hourly (ish) updates of my work, during the times when I was working, and it was quite an eye opener, really, into the amount of stuff I get up to on what was a fairly average day..!

My first pic for the census was posted at around 8.30 a.m. on Instagram – a blog reader had asked a question about one of my tutorials, and I was trying to answer, whilst remembering back to how the tutorial works, whilst drinking my one cup of coffee for the day..!

answering-a-blog-question
Trying to formulate a helpful answer for a blog reader.

At 9.30ish, I was still at home (having planned to get to the studio for about 9 – Sandy will tell you that this is a very common feature of working life, there’s always one last thing to do at home before I head out to Spode). Last Tuesday I was still trying to decide which fabrics to take down to the studio for a project I was starting. I don’t have enough room there to store all my fabric stash (haha, is there enough room anywhere?), so have to make sure I get organised in advance.

doing-a-fabric-pull
Final fabric pull for a kitchen-themed project for a magazine commission.

These fabrics are for a practice piece for a project for a craft/sewing magazine piece that I have to write for December 2nd. This is my usual way of working when it’s a small project – I make one or two prototypes to get the pattern clear in my head, then I write the step by step instructions, photograph and make the final piece(s) that will be sent to the magazine. If it’s a big project, like a quilt, I can’t have a first go (not enough time, not enough fabric!), so that’s always far more nerve-wracking, especially as once you get to a certain point, there’s no turning back!

By 10.30, I have finally arrived down at Spode, and I am delighted to see that the banner is up for our Makers’ Market. Hurrah! It has been a lot of hard work getting the Market going – it is our first selling event at the Studios, so we have learned an awful lot as we have gone along! I am so glad that, with massive assistance from our friends at Design by Weather (also based at Spode), we went with this fabulous red and white scheme.

market-banner

At the studios, my first job is to quickly finish and then photograph two mini Christmas stockings I have made for a free tutorial for my blog. I need to do this first because the light is so poor today, and I need to take photos before it starts to get even worse after lunch. That’s one of the big difficulties of pattern writing at this time of year in England!

I really enjoy writing tutorials for my blog, it’s such a pleasant contrast to writing for magazines, because I am not limited to length or number of pictures, and, of course, I have more say in the choice of project and fabrics! In my blog tutorials I can focus on writing for people who might not have been sewing for very long, and include loads of extra info and explanation that just isn’t possible in a magazine pieces. The other reason for writing free tutorials is to bring people to my blog, who will then perhaps, click through and go and visit my lovely sponsors, who I have a strong sense of responsibility towards.. first because they are great businesses, and second because they are one of my main sources of income.

liberty-patchwork-mini-stockings-another-shot
The finished stockings РLiberty lawn patchwork and linen always look so fabulous together. You can find the tutorial just here. 

making-a-template

Then I get on with trying to draw a template for the magazine project – showing how terrible I am at drawing!

After lunch and a dog walk, I finish off a little cactus garden I am making, inspired by a book I am reviewing for the blog. Again, writing about topics like this is partly about bringing traffic to the blog – but, as I love gardening books, and cacti and succulents are a real craze for me at the moment, this is a lovely way to do it! I get requests to review lots of books and products, and am very choosy about it – I never blog about anything that doesn’t interest me, or that I can’t be enthusiastic about, because although I want people to come and read, and click on links, I still want to be as true as I can be to myself and my interests. It’s a fine balance to get this right, and I’m not sure I always do.

making-a-cactus-garden
Not a great photo because the light really is scarce by this stage!

When I am at home and have time to work, I try to catch up on admin and social media stuff – so my next photo shows that side of my work. We have a little bit of money left in the advertising budget for our Makers’ Market at Spode, so I volunteer to make a Facebook ad to boost the event listing in the final few days before the big event:

doing-a-fb-ad
You’ll be glad to know, the Market was a big success!

Now it’s time to watch a Laurel and Hardy film with one of my boys, so no more work for me until after dinner.

Once we’ve all eaten and the boys are chilling out before getting ready for bed, I get back to my computer for the final slog of the day – editing pictures for my blog tutorial. I am pleased with how well they have come out, but there is 26 photos in all, and it takes a long time to go through them all, doing a bit of editing to make sure that they look their absolute best.

working-on-my-tutorial

Thankfully I have a cup of chai or two, to seem me through until bed time…

So that was one day of my working life… it’s not always quite this busy, but the mix of lots of different things going on is certainly a real indication of how much planning and flexibility is necessary to keep on top of things. Looking back now, one thing that strikes me is that I was very stressed that day, and yet now, looking back, the blog posts are published, and the Market has happened, and good times were had – so maybe all that anxiety wasn’t really required. I’m sure that Nicola had entirely different aims for her Census project, but having that insight is a real help for me.

Tutorial: Liberty patchwork mini-Christmas stocking

If you are looking for a Christmas stocking that you can stuff lots of lovely gifts into, this is not the sewing tutorial for you! The final stocking is about 7in (18-19cm) in height, and is meant really for decoration, although there’s nothing to stop you putting a little present or two inside… I always imagine the finished stocking hanging from a beautifully polished brass door handle, against a lovely oak door… well, a girl can dream…!

liberty-patchwork-mini-stockings

 

If you haven’t used woven iron-on interfacing before, you might want to read my blog post with some tips and tricks that will give you confidence to work with this very useful fabric.

You will need

  1. Scraps of 8 different Liberty prints in coordinating colours. The scraps need to be gig enough for you to cut twelve 1 inch squares from them. Feel free to use more than 8 different prints if you want to, as long as you can cut a total of 96 1 inch squares. I used a Christmas scrap pack from my sponsors Duck Egg Threads.
  2. Approx 10in x 14in of linen style fabric, for the main outer. I used yarn-dyed Essex linen in flax, one of my favourite fabrics when I need a natural linen look.
  3. Approx 10in x 14in Liberty fabric for the lining and toe end pieces
  4. Approx 14in x 18in light weight iron-on interfacing – I used Vilene G710, a woven interfacing which brings body without stiffness
  5. 10in x 14in medium weight iron on interfacing – I used Vilene G700, again a woven interfacing
  6. 7 inch piece of narrow ribbon
  7. Neutral grey or cream thread for your sewing machine – here’s a piece I wrote about not trying to match thread to patchwork
  8. Print outs of the¬†main stocking template¬†and lining template. Make sure you open the templates in Adobe Acrobat Reader, and when you print, make sure that the ‘print to fit’ box is NOT ticked/checked. There is a 1 inch box printed on each template so you can check the templates are the right size.
  9. 60/8 sewing machine needle РI find a very sharp microtex needle works well, or a really nice new sharp Universal 60/8 would work too.

Cutting list

Cut twelve 1 inch squares from each of the Liberty prints. The easiest way to do this is to cut the scraps into 1 inch strips, then pile up the strips (up to 6 in a pile) and cut into squares. The squares don’t have to be very accurately cut, as long as they are not hugely too big or too small.

Fold the outer main fabric in half and pin the larger template securely to it, through both halves of the fabric. Draw round the template and then cut out the 2 stocking pieces from the fabric (if you have a small rotary cutter, you can cut round the template using that).

From the lining fabric cut 2 pieces measuring 2.25in x 3.5in for the toe ends. Fold the rest of the fabric in half and pin the smaller stocking template very securely in place, pinning through both halves of the fabric. As outlined above, cut out 2 lining pieces – here’s what you should end up with:

step-13-cut-2-lining-pieces

From the light weight interfacing cut 2 rectangles measuring 8in x 4in. Next fold the rest of the interfacing in half, and use the larger template to cut out 2 pieces, as you did for the main outer fabric.

Fold the medium weight interfacing in half and use the smaller template to cut 2 pieces, as you did for the lining fabric above.

Instructions

Step 1: Make the patchwork cuff pieces

Working on the smooth side of one of the 4in by 8in pieces of lightweight interfacing, draw a grid of one inch squares like this:

step-1-draw-the-grid

I use a soft pencil for this – it’s very important to use a marking pen that isn’t affected by heat (so no Frixion pens!). Make sure you can see the marked lines fairly clearly on the other side of the interfacing.

Take 48 of your prepared Liberty squares, and working on your ironing board, or on a piece of card or small cutting mat that you can carry to your ironing board, arrange the squares into four rows of eight.

Put one of the prepared pieces of interfacing, rough side facing up, on your ironing board and place the first 4 squares on the first marked column.

step-2-place-first-squares

Carefully use the iron to press into place – they don’t have to be really firmly stuck at this stage, so just a brief press will do. Use a piece of baking parchment to protect your iron from the sticky stuff.

step-3-place-second-row-of-squares

Repeat with the next column of squares, and then continue along until you have completely filled the grid. Don’t worry at all if some of the squares overlap a tiny bit, this will be sorted at the next stage. Once the grid is full, flip the interfacing over, and run a steam iron over it 5 or 6 times, or use a damp cloth and press for about 10 seconds, to make sure that all the squares are firmly attached. This is how it should look:

step-4-squares-all-in-place

Thread your sewing machine with a neutral grey or cream thread. Fold the piece of interfacing along the first short grid line, RST.

step-5-folding-the-first-row

Put a couple of pins through the fold to secure, making sure that the lines on either side match up.

Stitch with a scant 1/4in seam. It’s important to be stingy with the seams because of the extra thickness that the Vilene adds to the fabric.

step-6-stitching-the-first-row

Continue, stitching all the short rows in turn. You will end up with something that looks like this:

step-7-all-the-short-rows-stitched

With a pair of sharp dressmaking scissors, trim off a tiny part of the seam allowance of each seam, close to the fold. This will allow you to press the seams open, and ensure that the seam allowances don’t get too bulky.

step-8-trimming-the-seam-allowance

Repeat this trimming process for each of the folded seams, and then open up the seam allowances and press very thoroughly. You will end up with something that looks like this on the back:

step-9-press-the-seam-allowance-open

I find the pointy end and the flat end of a Hera marking tool really useful for opening up the seam allowance and holding it open whilst I press. Here’s how it should look on the front:

step-9a-front-view

Next fold along the first of the long grid lines, as shown:

step-10-folding-the-first-long-row

Stitch a scant seam, as before, and then repeat for the other 2 grid lines. Trim the seams and then press them open, as before. Your finished patchwork piece should look like this.

step-11-long-rows-stitched-and-trimmed

Repeat this whole process with the other piece of interfacing and the Liberty squares.

I like to make one final step with the cuff pieces before I move on to the next stage – I stitch all round the edge of the patchwork about 1/8th inch away from the edge, just to keep stitches unravelling as I work on constructing the stocking later.

step-12-stitch-round-edge-to-prevent-unravelling

Step 2: Complete the lining pieces

Iron the medium weight interfacing to the lining pieces – 5 or 6 passes with a steam iron, or 12 seconds pressing with a damp cloth will be enough to fix it in place.

Then take one of the cuff pieces and place right sides together with the top of one of the lining pieces, aligning it centrally, and pin in place.

step-14-pinning-cuff-to-lining

Stitch and then press the seam upwards (I find this really helps when you are folding the cuff down, later on):

step-15-press-seam-upward

Use the main body template to trim completed lining section to size:

step-16-use-the-template-to-trim-the-lining-and-cuff-piece

Repeat these steps to finish the other side of the lining.

Step 3: Make the outer stocking

Iron the lightweight interfacing onto the 2 main body fabric pieces.Fold the template toe section along the marked line then use the template to mark the toe section line on the back (the interfaced side) of the 2 pieces.

step-17-interfaced-outer-and-marking-the-toe-piece

Take one of the marked pieces and put one of the 2.25in x 3.5in Liberty rectangles right side together with it, aligned as shown in the picture:

step-18-pinning-toe-piece-in-place

There should be a 0.25 inch overlap at the seam, as shown, and enough fabric that, when you stitch along the marked line, the fabric will cover the entire toe section. Stitch along the marked line, reverse stitching at either end. Fold the fabric right side out, and press:

step-19-toe-piece-stitched-and-folded

Top stitch close to the fold, then trim the excess fabric away:

step-20-toe-piece-top-stitched-and-trimmed

Repeat for the other outer stocking piece.

Put the two outer stocking pieces right sides together, and pin. Because I am entirely incompetent at stitching curves in a smooth way, I like to mark my stitching line on the curved section:

step-21-outer-pieces-rst-with-lines-marked

Stitch round the edge, reverse stitching at both ends of the seam.

To help the seams lie flat when you turn the stocking through, you need to clip and notch the seam allowance. Clip the concave section (the valley shaped bit!) and notch the convex sections (the hilly bits!):

step-22-notches-and-slashes-made-in-outer

Turn the completed outer right side out and press.

Step 4:Complete the lining section

Fold the hanging ribbon in half and position on the cuff section, just next to the seam between the lining and the cuff, as shown. The raw edges should be lined up with the edge of the cuff. A smidgeon of washable glue is really useful here, to hold it in place, but you can pin if you don’t have glue.

step-23-ribbon-folded-and-glued-in-position

Put the other lining piece right side together with this one, and stitch as you did for the outer, but this time leave a 2.5in-3in gap in the long back edge of the stocking lining – remember to reverse stitch at either end of this gap, and and at either end of your line of stitching (sorry I didn’t get a picture of this bit, but you can see the turning gap in the next picture). Notch and clip the curves as before.

Keep the lining section wrong side out, and pop the completed outer section inside, so that their right sides are together.

step-24-outer-tucked-inside-the-lining

The picture shows the top bit of the outer poking out, but you need to line up the two top edges, making sure that seams are aligned, and pin all round.

Take the stocking to the sewing machine and stitch round the top edge. I find the easiest way to do this is to work on the inside of the stocking, pulling the top layer out of the way, and gradually easing my way round the top.

step-25-stitching-round-the-top-edge

When you have finished pull the entire stocking right side out, through the hole that you left in the lining. You should have something like this:

step-26-turning-the-stocking-through

Push the lining down inside the outer – a large size knitting needle or crochet hook is really useful here for pushing the lining into place.

Press the top edge of the outer, until you have something that looks like this:

step-27-lining-and-cuff-tucked-into-the-outer

Top stitch the top edge, close to the fold, again working on the lower part of the stocking and pulling the top half out of the way as you stitch. Fasten off the ends of the top stitching, thread the ends onto a hand sewing needle and pull them through between the outer and inner sections to get them securely out of the way. Then sew the turning hole in the lining closed.

Turn the cuff down and press again to finish.

liberty-patchwork-mini-stocking-tutorial