Allyson Gofton in France: Apples and spice
Aah! Yes, it’s school holidays, both for you and me, though here in France school holidays come around every six weeks. I feel like I just get back into gear and holidays are here again. In this rural area, few children attend paid activities. Rather, they follow either the traditional pattern of spending the two weeks with grandparents, even if that means travelling away from the village, or they stay home and spend lazy days biking around the village laneways.
Since I’m usually cooking in my hobbit-sized kitchen, my daughter brings her friends over in the afternoon and we set about cooking. Crepes with Nutella always feature, but recently this baked apple recipe (below) has become a favourite; an oldie revived with a twist.
I recently attended a local cooking class at which the chef stuffed apples with crumbled speculaas mixed to a thick paste with butter and baked them; a classic reinvented.
Apple season is just beginning down under, and the best apples for this will be an eating apple, not too acidic or sweet. Cooking apples such as granny smith, will be too sharp. A red delicious or, better still, a good old cox’s orange pippin, which has a flesh that will cook to a fluffy texture, are ideal to use here.
These baked apples are ideal for your kids to make this holiday and though speculaas may be hard to find, Kiwis’ much-loved ginger nuts are a perfect alternative. Warm from the oven accompanied with fresh cream, they're like individual apple crumbles... only richer.
Speculaas, or speculoos, are lovely, spiced, buttery shortbread biscuits which originated in Belgium and Holland back in the 1600s and are to the locals here in France as Anzac biscuits or Afghans are to us. Every half-decent cafe bar accompanies each coffee sold with one of these moreish treats. Get the recipe
If it’s not the biscuit tucked beside the cup, it’s chocolate-coated speculaas balls — think Jaffas, a la Francais. Their eat-any-time status belies the distinction and long history of speculaas, which were once baked only for St Nicholas to deliver on the eve of, or the day of the feast of St Nicholas (December 5 or 6).
The spice mix — which would have been extremely expensive in the 1700s — of white pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, cardamom, cloves and ginger reflects Holland’s long seafaring and spice-trading history. Historically the biscuit pastry was pressed into wooden moulds that, in past times, were carved to depict a trend or popular belief of the day.
Today the moulds are likely to be plastic or not used at all, but the biscuit recipe is pretty much the same as it has always been; their making and use is the topic of more than two dozen books in the village bookshop.