Brambles, fresh cheese and speculaas

AT A GLANCE

"Traditionally enjoyed in the Netherlands and Belgium on the 5th December as a festive sweet, these spiced cookies pair well with the richness of the cheese and acidity of the berries," says Luke Burgess. "You can use a top-quality full-fat ricotta instead of making the cheese and pair other fruits such as peach or plums." Makes 12 biscuits.

  • 300 gm blackberries
  •  
  • Fresh cheese
  • 1 litre (4 cups) unhomogenised milk (see note)
  • 150 ml pouring cream
  • ½ tsp vegetarian rennet (see note)
  • 2 tsp filtered or mineral water
  •  
  • Speculaas spice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each ground nutmeg and ground cloves
  • ½ tsp each freshly ground white pepper, ground ginger and ground cardamom
  •  
  • Speculaas dough
  • 125 gm (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 250 gm dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 large egg
  • 260 gm plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
01   For fresh cheese, place milk, cream and 2 tsp fine sea salt in a very clean saucepan and gently warm, stirring continuously, over medium heat to 85C (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and stand saucepan in a bowl of cold water, changing water a few times to keep it cool, until mixture reaches 35C (45 minutes to 1 hour). The milk will form a skin; don’t remove it. Add rennet to the filtered water and gently stir into the milk for 5 seconds, then stand at room temperature without stirring until coagulated (30-40 minutes). Cut curds into 5cm cubes and gently ladle into a sieve (or cheese-straining basket) lined with muslin. Refrigerate until cheese forms a soft curd (5 hours or overnight). Discard whey.
02   For speculaas spice, combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
03   For speculaas dough, beat butter, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer until light and fluffy (3-4 minutes). Add egg and beat well to combine. Sieve flour and bicarbonate soda into a bowl, add 1¼ tbsp spice mixture and ½ tsp salt and whisk to combine (you may have a little spice mixture remaining). Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Halve dough and roll each piece between 2 sheets of baking paper to about 25cm x 35cm, then refrigerate to chill (4 hours).
04   Preheat oven to 175C and line 3 large oven trays with baking paper. Remove baking paper from dough sheets and cut out rounds with a 10cm-diameter cookie cutter and place 4 on each tray with 4cm space between them to allow for spreading and bake until dark golden brown (10-12 minutes). Cool completely on trays (20-30 minutes), then store in an airtight container. Speculaas will keep in an airtight container for 14 days.
05   To serve, spread curd on biscuits, top with blackberries and sprinkle with sea salt crystals.

Note Luke Burgess recommends Country Valley or Barambah unhomogenised milk for a good curd set. Vegetarian rennet is available from select health food shops and online cheesemaking equipment suppliers such as greenlivingaustralia.com.au.

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