Joyeux Noel

After weeks of planning and frantic email exchanges between me and my two flatmates, the day of our annual Christmas gathering with friends and colleagues had come.  As always, there was a slight last minute rush to get everything ready – best demonstrated by my flatmate Millen’s exasperated phonecall from the checkout line at Sainsbury’s (just to check she hadn’t forgotten anything crucial) ca. 30 minutes after our scheduled 3pm meet-up in the kitchen to get everything ready.  However, not only were we a couple of hours behind schedule, but so were our friends so it all worked out in the end.  As our circle of friends is largely foreign we asked everyone to bring Christmassy food from home so we ended up with Panettone, Pandoro, Christstollen, Linzer Augen, Spekulatiuscookies, Swedish cardamom buns and a Belgian twist on cupcakes with cream cheese frosting: Spekuloos cupcakes and Spekuloos Reese’s cups.  When I was living in Brussels this time last year I organised a big brunch for my friends from London who had come to visit where I first experimented with Spekuloos spread (looks incredibly similar to peanut butter but is made from ground Spekuloos cookies) – I made both Spekuloos cupcakes and Spekuloos Reese’s cups and they were such a success that Millen requested I make these again for our Christmas party. And so I did.  Both got rave reviews – ranging from “I can’t believe you made your own chocolates” to “Sophia, you have set the bar for dinner parties in 2011 incredibly high!” so I thought I better share the recipes with you all:

Spekuloos (or Gingerbread) Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 12 medium-sized cupcakes with a lot of frosting
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
140g sugar
120ml whole milk
120g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 scant teaspoon spekuloos/gingerbread spice mix

For the frosting
300g icing sugar
150g cream cheese
40g butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons crunchy Spekuloos spread*

For the cupcakes, pre-heat the oven to 170° C (°325 F).

Cream the warm butter together with the sugar and the egg, until the egg is well incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.  Pour in the milk and mix until incorporated.  Mix all the dry ingredients together and carefully fold into the wet mixture.  Pour into 12 medium-sized muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cupcakes are golden on top and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cupcake comes out clean.  Leave to cool to room temperature before frosting them.

For the frosting, beat the icing sugar and butter on slow speed until combined.  Add the cream cheese and the Spekuloos spread in one go and mix until combined with the icing sugar-butter mix.  Beat (I usually do this by hand, but a free-standing mixer is easier on your arms!) on high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy (ca. 5 minutes).  Be careful not too overbeat the frosting as it can quickly become runny.  Place the frosting in the fridge for 1-2 hours (the frosting will become thicker in the fridge so it will be easier to pipe).  I like piping the frosting with a star or round nozzle but you can also just spread the frosting with a palette knife or a normal knife.  If available, dust with some edible glitter for some Christmas sparkle!

*Spekuloos spread is widely available in France and in Belgium.  In the USA, it is sold under the Biscoff brand (“Europe’s alternative to peanut butter”).  If not available, increase the butter content by another 1.5 tablespoons, add 1.5 tablespoons of crushed Spekulatius cookies (which, during the holiday season should be widely available in major grocery stores) and add 1 scant teaspoon of Spekuloos/gingerbread spice mix.

Spekuloos Reese’s Cups

Makes 6 large ones and 5 small ones
150g good quality milk chocolate, roughly chopped
2-3 heaped teaspoons of Spekuloos spread

Melt the chocolate and put a little bit of the melted chocolate in the bottom of the ice cube tray and up the sides of the individual ice cube moulds.  Let set in the fridge or the freezer for ca. 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, carefully nuke the Spekuloos spread in the microwave (this burns quick so 30-40 secs on high is plenty).  Put a small quantity of the Spekuloos spread in the ice cube moulds and cover with the remaining chocolate.  Let set in the fridge.  Unmould and decorate with some edible glitter. Hmmm…

So you wonder how I got my Reese’s cups to look like little Snowflakes?  A few weeks back I was in Paperchase looking for inspiration to decorate our living room for Christmas and I came across some ice cube trays.  And then it hit me that I could easily use these to make the Reese’s cups Millen wanted for our party.  I wasn’t sure how well the snowflake pattern would show on the chocolate but thought I would just give it a try.  And what can I say, these turned out great! I am already trying to think of different Christmas inspired Chocolates I could make with these.  I am thinking dark chocolate with a minced pie filling could be amazing.  Or even more decadent, dark chocolate with a brandy butter and christmas pudding filling.  I am sure my dad would love those!! Hmmm … need to have a think about this.

What else have I been up to?  Ale and I spent a beautiful weekend at home in Pontecorvo, spent a day walking around Pompeii (before more walls collapsed), ate incredibly fresh Buffala Mozzarella (so much better than the tasteless gunk you can buy in supermarkets in London and definitely worth leaking whey all over my suitcase on the way back to London), attended my office’s Christmas party, got a fair amount of Christmas present shopping done and that’s about it.  I took a week off from exercising because a) I really wasn’t in the mood and b) I really needed to catch up on some sleep and work is still quite hectic so something had to give … especially after last night’s indulgences I certainly feel the need and motivation to get moving again.  Currently deciding between some yoga later or a run in the crips winter air, maybe both.  But now, I just want to sit back and enjoy my latter before planning the rest of my Sunday…

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