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Speculoos (Gingerbread Cookies)

If you want to decorate a Christmas tree with these cookies, cut out larger pieces of dough in any shape you wish. Before baking, cut small holes in the dough, so that you'll be able to run ribbon or string through them to hang the cookies. If the holes close a bit during baking, recut them as soon as the cookies come out of the oven.

For munching, the cookies need nothing more than coffee, tea or milk. But if you want to dress them up, put some royal icing into a piping bag fitted with a small writing tip and go to town.

These cookies keep really well, making them perfect to pack up in tins and give as Christmas presents.

Makes about 70 cookies

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 (packed) cup light brown sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

Whisk the flour, salt, baking soda and spices together in a bowl.

Working in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat until well blended, about 2 minutes; beat in the egg. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing only until the flour disappears into the soft dough. You may have some flour at the bottom of the bowl or the dough may not be entirely smooth, but that's normal. Using your hands (always my first choice) or a spatula, reach into the bowl and knead or stir the dough 2 or 3 times, just enough to eliminate any dry spots. Divide the dough in half. (The dough is very soft, even after you refrigerate it for several hours, so if your kitchen is hot, you might want to divide the dough into thirds -- that way it won't take you as long to cut out the cookies and the dough won't soften as much.)

Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap until you have a circle that's a scant 1/4-inch thick. As you're rolling, turn the dough over a couple of times and pull away the paper or plastic, so you don't end up rolling creases into the dough. Put the rolled-out rounds of dough on a tray or cutting board and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (If it's more convenient for you, you can freeze the dough for up to 2 months.)

When you're ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Choose a cookie cutter -- I like to use a scalloped cutter that's 1 1/4-inches in diameter -- and remove one circle of dough from the refrigerator. Peel off the top piece of wax paper or plastic and cut out as many cookies as you can from the dough, carefully lifting the cut-outs onto the lined baking sheets. Collect the scraps and set them aside to combine with the scraps from the second piece of dough.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and just slightly brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the second round of dough, making certain the baking sheet is cool before you put the cut-outs on it. To use the scraps, press them together, roll them into a circle and chill before cutting and baking.

Storing: Kept in an airtight container, the cookies will be fine for a week or more.

Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)

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