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Baking Speculaas At E5 Bakehouse

December 20, 2019
by the gentle author

This year Louise Lateur, the Flemish baker at the E5 Bakehouse, has made giant gingerbread figures – or speculaas as they are called in Flanders – in the form of St Nicholas from a nineteenth century mould that has been in her family for generations.

Below you can read my account of the first speculaas Louise baked last year, thereby inaugurating a new Christmas tradition in London.

St Nicholas, newly baked from a nineteenth century mould

Louise Lateur at E5 Bakehouse

Many years ago, I bought a gingerbread figure of St Nicholas in a bakery in Galway. A few years later, I bought another gingerbread figure – this time of Krampus – in Prague. While St Nicholas brings gifts to good children each December, Krampus punishes those who have misbehaved, so I realised that my gingerbread figures belonged together. And all this time, they have lived side by side in a glass case on my bookshelf.

Imagine my excitement when Fiona Atkins, antique dealer and proprietor of Townhouse in Fournier St, showed me a hefty old wooden mould for a gingerbread man she had bought in an auction. The design was of a man in Tudor clothing, not unlike the outfits worn by the yeoman warders at the Tower of London, and the figure was over two and a half feet high. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, a ruff and long quilted coat with slashed sleeves.

At once, I persuaded Fiona to let me find a baker to make us some giant gingerbread men. My good fortune was to meet Louise Lateur, a pastry chef from Flanders working at E5 Bakehouse, who agreed to take on the challenge. Thus it was that, early one frosty morning this week, Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I arrived at the Bakehouse under the arches in London Fields to record the baking of London’s largest gingerbread man.

As a Flemish baker, Louise knew that the correct name for these gingerbread figures was ‘speculaas’ and recognised the design of the mould as one of St Nicholas’ helpers. Her father had a similar mould hanging on the wall at home in Ghent and she knew the traditional recipe. “At pastry school in Belgium, it is one of the things you have to make to qualify,” Louise revealed proudly. Yet although Louise has made speculaas, she has never made one of this size before.

Already, Louise had done a week of experimentation to address the challenges posed by the giant gingerbread man. She perfected her recipe to create dough that was flexible enough to take an imprint of all the details of the mould yet stiff enough when baked so the gingerbread man was not too brittle to stand up. At first she experimented with decoration, adding icing to the figure, but decided it was better without. Most importantly, she created the ideal mixture of spices – ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamon, pepper and coriander to bake the classic speculaas. “In Belgium,” she revealed, “every bakery has their own spice mix for speculaas.”

Taking out a large lump of the golden dough, Louise rolled it on the table and then placed it on top of the mould, pressing and spreading it out to fill the figure. The density of the dough rendered this an arduous task, demanding twenty minutes of pushing and pummelling, requiring skill and muscle in equal degree. As she worked, Louise trimmed the excess from the back of the mould with a flat knife and added it to the bulk of the dough as it extended to fill the mould.

Once the mould was full and the edges of the dough neatly trimmed, Louise faced the challenge of turning the gingerbread man out in one piece. Tilting the mould sideways, she stood it up on its longest side and then quickly turned it face down onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. Lifting one end carefully, she used her flat knife to coax the edge of the dough from the mould. We held our breaths.

Suddenly the head fell out and, as Louise lifted the mould away, the entire figure rolled down onto the greaseproof paper in a single wave. He did not break and the impression of the mould was perfect in every detail. What had seconds before been mere dough suddenly acquired presence and personality. Behold, London’s largest gingerbread man was born. We stood amazed and delighted at this new wonder of creation.

Exhilarated and relieved, Louise painted the figure with egg white to give it a shine and a crust when baked. Meanwhile the gingerbread man lay inert, regarding us with a vacant grin. After another twenty minutes, he emerged from the oven as shiny-cheeked as a footballer from a tanning salon. Glowing with delight, we stood together and admired our festive bakery miracle. Could this be the birth of a new Christmas tradition in London Fields?

Speculaas are available now at Leila’s Shop and E5 Bakehouse

The Gentle Author’s St Nicholas purchased in Galway in 1989 and Krampus purchased in Prague in 1992

Pressing the dough down into the mould to imprint the design

Slicing off excess dough

The completed mould is filled with gingerbread dough

Preparing to remove the gingerbread man from the mould

The gingerbread man comes out head first

The birth of London’s largest gingerbread man

The gingerbread man and the mould

Detail of the mould

“the gingerbread man lay inert, regarding us with a vacant grin”

Coating the gingerbread man to give him a shine and a crust

Taking him to the oven

The gingerbread man emerges from the oven

London’s largest gingerbread man

Pastry chef Louise Lateur at E5 Bakehouse

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    December 20, 2019

    Wow, they’re huge! Fascinating

  2. December 20, 2019

    Fantastic. Thank you.

  3. December 20, 2019

    WOW!!! That is Wonderful!! Merry Christmas!!!???????⛄???

  4. Betsy Barker permalink
    December 20, 2019

    As a hand baker in one of my previous “lives”, this posting was especially for me, and the pictures so wonderful ….Thank you!

  5. December 20, 2019

    Delightful! And a Merry Christmas to all!

  6. December 20, 2019

    Here I go with yet-another “if only I lived in London” comment……..I know I would
    purchase these amazing gingerbread characters for my entire gift list. And, oh boy, Ms.
    Lateur must be “the gingerbread whisperer” to be able to coax those large potentially-brittle
    shapes from the mold. These are beautiful works of art, and so festive. I love knowing that this fun tradition continues. Well, of course — in London Town.

    Happy Holidays!

  7. December 20, 2019

    Holiday greetings from Boston,

    GA, you always find the most appropriate subject to match the time of year. Louise Lateur’s “speculaas” hit just the right note for Christmas tradition and fun!

  8. Saba permalink
    December 20, 2019

    Does anyone have an educated estimation as to how old the mold is? I am enjoying thinking about all those who might have baked from it. Or, was the mold possibly a decoration and the creator did not imagine that someone could find the right recipe to use it? I would love to know more.

  9. December 20, 2019

    Beautiful! Thanks for posting.


    Here’s a link to some more historic moulds from Historic Food.

  10. December 20, 2019

    I love the Krampus, St. Nicholas and the big man. Beautiful.
    I have some wooden molds. I have been able to get the details of the molds to show when I bake springerle and the flavor I like with gingerbread, but never the flavor and details in one recipe.
    Would you be willing to share your recipe?

  11. December 20, 2019

    Looks very delicious, this Gingerbread-Man — would like to get one! But I think I would never eat him, he would stay for ever on my Bookshelf …

    *** MERRY CHRISTMAS! ***
    *** JOYEUX NOËL! ***

    Love & Peace

  12. Peter Metaxas permalink
    December 20, 2019

    I got so hungry, I can taste that wonderful speculaas ! All we get here in Canada is those factory made ones. Time to bake our own!

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