A Spekulatius is a special form of flat, slightly-browned, rectangular biscuit (cookie) that typically appears in Viennese shops in great numbers during the Christmas period.
- Dry, spicy biscuit you might not normally eat but, heh, Christmas
- Always has a hole in it somewhere
- Not unique to Austria; the Dutch, Belgians and Germans also make it
- See also: Christmas in Vienna
What’s it like?
The various types of Spekulatius are not really considered a Christmas biscuit (Weihnachtskekse) as such, but they are associated with the Christmas season.
Put another way: you won’t find them in your typical Weihnachtskekse assortment, but you will find them appearing on supermarket shelves toward the end of the year.
Three things distinguish this Advent favourite from normal biscuits:
- The spices that are usually – but not always – present, giving the Spekulatius its notable flavour. Popular options include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.
- The biscuit’s surface normally forms a picture of some sort, stamped into the dough before baking. Traditionally, this would be a scene from the story of St. Nicklaus (hence the Christmas association). But nowadays it’s just as likely to be a farmhouse or tree.
- A hole normally appears somewhere in the biscuit, often as an integral part of the picture illustrated on the surface.
An 1899 recipe for Spekulatius I found in the Wiener Illustrierte Frauen Zeitung paper requires a pound of butter, 9 eggs, 2.5 pounds of sugar, 4.5 pounds of flour, 3 teaspoons of cinnamon, one ground nutmeg, half a teaspoon of finely-grounded cloves, and just a pinch of ammonium carbonate (whose German name translates rather delightfully as deer horn salt).
The Viennese have a particular fondness for the nut version, where the back of the biscuit contains thin slices of almonds. Another common alternative is the butter version, which involves more…well…butter.
Give the Spekulatius a try, because the flavour is really quite distinctive. But I wouldn’t recommend this seasonal biscuit as a suitable gift for taking home. They’re quite brittle and fragile, as the dough doesn’t rise much. So they might not survive the journey in one piece.