We got back from our month-long trip to Greece and France, and I must admit it has
been a bit of a challenge to adapt back to “real life”. Probably because this
intense month of bonding with friends and (re)discovery and experience felt
more real than our so-called “real life”. Most of our time was spent
focusing on things that really matter, and very little time on menial things.
It just always makes me wonder, “What if life could always be this pure and
intense?” Part of me feels energized and motivated from the trip, and another
part feels sad, nostalgic and daunted by the mountain of things to do. I
must start cooking and writing in hope my spirits will lift.
In the meantime, I shall reminisce about a week in Normandy spent with our
friends Christelle and Jean-Max and their children, Calista, 9 and Philéas, 5.
These children are what I would
consider very French children (the kind Karen Le Billon talks about in her book). While they love pasta and sweets and French
fries, they are also quite the foodies. I was delighted to hear them critique
their school lunch menus (which are amazing by American standards, but
considered mediocre by most French parents), saying the food left to be
desired, the pasta was too greasy, and the meat overcooked. Philéas declared he
only liked a particular brand of Camembert cheese (he also went through a phase
where he declared himself a “cheese vegetarian”). And Calista professed her
love of cooking. When I asked what they liked to cook, they mentioned one of
their favorite desserts: the Speculoos trifle. At my puzzled look, they asked,
“What, you don’t know what a Speculoos is?” I was soon initiated. It turns out
a Speculoos is a very simple, yet tasty, cinnamon spice cookie, as widely known
as Oreos in the US.
It’s from Belgium
originally, but has become a favorite of the French (and of Amélie Poulain in the French film, Amélie).
So we decide to make home-made Speculoos to use for
the trifle. The children bring out the ingredients, Philéas mixes, Calista knows
all about making a well in the dry ingredients to pour the wet. As we shape the
dough, Calista suggests adding more butter, as it is too dry. She’s correct,
that does the trick. We are in Normandy
after all, the land of cream and butter. In doubt, add more.
Watching Philéas getting so excited about making tonight’s
dessert, and Calista licking the bowl of cream, I feel thrilled at the idea of paying homage
to their gourmet spirit in this space. Their mother is a dear childhood friend of mine,
we’ve known each other since we’re 11, and the thought of our children cooking
and eating together couldn’t make me happier.
This dessert is very easy to make for children, and it is a wonderful refreshing treat for the whole family. The cookie softens
under the yogurt and the fruit adds a splash of sweetness. It is a reasonably healthy
treat, which I will make in Los Angeles,
if only to be transported back to Philéas and Calista Land, for a trifle in time.
Calista & Philéas’ Speculoos trifle
For the cookies (Prepare dough one day ahead)
(Original recipe found here)
2 cups all-purpose
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup (100 g) butter,
In a large bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar,
allspice, cinnamon, salt and baking powder.
Make a well (hole) in the middle of the dry
ingredients and add the lightly beaten egg and melted butter.
Gently mix together (easier done with both hands)
to form a tube of dough that holds together (if too crumbly, add a little more
Wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge overnight or
Preheat the oven at 350° F.
Cut into ¾ inch slices. Place them on a baking
sheet over parchment paper.
Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool.
(Recipe invented by Calista, 9, and Philéas, 5)
3 cups of Greek yogurt (use the creamiest you can find, and avoid 0% fat)
2 tbsp of crème fraîche
(*Alternatively, you can easily find and use whole
milk plain yogurt with cream on top)
2 tbsp Brown sugar
4-5 cups of cut-up fresh fruit (For us, it was 5
peaches and nectarines. Use what’s available in season, pears and apples in
winter, stone fruit in summer. Organic canned fruit could also be used)
Lay Speculoos cookies flat to cover the bottom of a
In a bowl, mix the yogurt and cream. Then add the
brown sugar and mix.
Pour the yogurt mixture on top of the cookies, and
use a spoon to spread it evenly.
Place the fruit on top and place in the fridge
until ready to serve.