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Speculaas and Kruidnoten (made from the same ingredients) are traditionally served in the Netherlands on and around Sinterklaas Day. Nowadays they are available year-round and all over the world. The secret to delicious speculaas, and what sets it apart from other spice cookies, is the unique mix of spices called spekulaaskruiden. This mix is a rich blend of spices containing cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, white pepper, coriander and sometimes anise, fennel, mace, and allspice. (You'll find many recipes for speculaas that call for pumpkin pie spice instead of the spekulaaskruiden--but be warned there is a big difference and you won’t get the same result!) In order to get the maximum flavour and aroma, it is best to start with whole spices and freshly grind them, but you can also use pre-ground spices. The cookies are traditionally shaped in a wooden mold (speculaasplank) with shapes of windmills or with scenes depicting the story of Sinterklaas. The same dough can also be shaped into small round crunchy cookies called Kruidnoten (“spice nuts”), or into other shapes if you don’t have a spekulaasplank.
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