Your Favorite In
By Anna Hezel
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Five long years ago "cookie butter" appeared on the limited-edition soft serve menu at my local Carvel in Brooklyn, and I’ve been chasing that high ever since—yearning for the warm, toasty flavors of speculoos contrasting with softened frozen dairy. So when my coworker, food editor Jesse Szewczyk, decided to fuse together vanilla ice cream and cookie butter in a malted (and salted) milkshake, I ran straight for the test kitchen. And then I told him to quit his job and start selling these for $14 out of a Manhattan storefront.
Speculoos (sometimes spelled "speculaas") is a category of Belgian and Dutch molded biscuits that have a pleasantly sandy, brittle snap, and a faintly spiced brown sugar sweetness. It's a familiar and comforting flavor to anyone who's been handed a red-and-white plastic sleeve of Lotus brand Biscoff cookies on a domestic flight in the past 30 years. The cookies are neutral enough to go with the in-flight beverage of your choice but recognizable enough to have spawned a whole cottage industry of speculoos-flavored products.
The cookie's trademark salty, caramel-y, cinnamon-inflected taste is also what gives cookie butter its character. The butter is essentially made by grinding the cookies into an emulsion with some oil until the mixture becomes fit for spreading on toast or eating by the spoonful. And as brands like Trader Joe's, Ben and Jerry's, Carvel (and Szewczyk's yet-to-be-named soda shop) have realized over the years, speculoos cookie butter was practically made to be mixed with ice cream.
This milkshake plays to all of cookie butter's salty, malty strengths. After spreading some cookie butter across the insides of your favorite pair of footed milkshake glasses, you blend a whopping ⅓ cup of it with vanilla ice cream, milk, malted milk powder, and plenty of salt. After adding a picturesque soda fountain swirl of whipped cream, you sprinkle the top with a sandy crumble of speculoos cookies (if you’ve been hoarding packets of the cookies on recent flights, this is a perfect use for them). The result is somehow both what I’ve always wished malted milkshakes would taste like and what I’ve always wished cookie butter ice cream would taste like.
"Think of the malt as MSG in this recipe," explains Szewczyk. "While MSG is delicious added to pretty much any food, its true power comes in highlighting intensely savory flavors that are already present (like in tomatoes, say, or chicken). The MSG doesn't overpower those flavors, but instead amplifies them. The malt does the same exact thing in this recipe: It amplifies the buttery brown sugar flavors of the speculoos. The result is an emboldened cookie butter flavor that shines brighter than it ever could by itself."
Telling anyone to quit their job over a milkshake might be a bit extreme, but I will make the case that everyone should dedicate at least one afternoon of their summer vacation to making and drinking a Salted Speculoos Malt.