What is speculoos?
What is the origin of the name speculoos?
There is no certainty about the origin of the name speculoos, but only some traditional assumptions: some linguists say that the word comes from the Latin word speculum which means “mirror”, “the one who sees everything” which is the nickname of Saint Nicholas.
Others say that the Latin word speculum is equivalent to the word episkopos in ancient Greek meaning “bishop” (Saint Nicholas).
And other linguists have suggested a kinship with another Latin word, species, translated as “spices”, as speculoos is a spicy biscuit.
Yet another explanation that the Dutch name of speculaas comes from the Dutch word speculation meaning “suspicious” or “suspected”. A baker would have originally called the speculoos “speculation” because he doubted that his sales were going to go well. Although speculation could also be a presumption of wealth, as speculoos was a cookie for wealthy gourmets.
What is the origin of speculoos?
It is said that this little biscuit was born in Hassel, Belgium on January 13, 1870. Pastry chef Antonie Deplée would have filed a patent for the creation of speculoos: “a kind of almond bread known as speculation”.
And on the Holland side? Other sources indicate that the speculoos’ spices were already known to the ancient Romans, who found themselves in the Netherlands through crusades in the fifth and sixth centuries. Later, the Dutch from overseas brought many types of herbs and spices and made them accessible to a wider audience. Bakers began experimenting with different spice blends and speculoos proved to be a success.
Because of the exclusive spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, ginger and clove, that were used to make speculoos cookies, it was for a long time the pinnacle of luxury to serve a speculoos with tea.
Many pastry chefs have developed their own speculoos recipe and have kept it secret. The first secret was particularly the good ratio of each spice in the spice blend for the small biscuit. Also, each pastry chef used his own methods for the other dough ingredients, as well as for cooking and preserving speculoos.
No matter where it was born, speculoos is a real success story!
This flaky little biscuit has become such a trendy phenomenon that many of the world’s greatest chefs have included it in their speculoos cookie recipes. It has even been the subject of a superb book by one of my favorite chefs, Philippe Conticini, where I discovered that speculoos is considered today as a precious ingredient, which goes well with monkfish, foie gras, or endives!
I can not mention speculoos without mentioning the most popular of all speculoos cookies, the one made by Lotus, “the original speculoos”, known as Lotus Biscoff in Belgium or Lotus Speculoos in the rest of Europe. Those Biscoff cookies have seduced gourmets since 1932 and are always a beautiful addition on the side of a cup of coffee.
Founded in 1932 in Lembeke, Belgium by the Boone brothers, Lotus was dedicated to the production of two specialties: “Original Speculoos” and gingerbread.
After the Second World War, Lotus started focusing exclusively on the production of “Original Speculoos”. In 1963, it became the leading manufacturer of speculoos cookies in Belgium and worldwide. Lotus also makes other products with speculoos, including popular speculoos cookie butter (Biscoff cookie butter) or speculoos spread that can be used the same way you would use jam or Nutella.
How to make homemade speculoos
One of the most important ingredients of the speculoos recipe is the soft brown sugar called vergeoise. It is called “the beautiful of the North” (la belle du Nord). It should not be confused with standard brown sugar (cassonade).
These two varieties of sugar are different. Vergeoise comes from sugar beet. In practice, it is necessary to heat the sugar juice of beet longer. This is how we produce vergeoise, with the sugar beetroot from a second or third cycle of crystallization.
It is this cooking that gives it its colors so special because vergeoise can be brown or blonde. Its slightly wet texture, its golden hues and its taste of caramel have no equal for a better finish of some desserts and especially speculoos.
The differences between standard brown sugar and vergeoise are first visual: large yellow-brown crystals, well dried for standard brown sugar while vergeoise is made up of small dark brown crystals, forming a wetter texture. On the aromatic side, standard brown sugar displays hints of cinnamon, rum, and caramel. While vergeoise has more notes of burnt caramel or toasted bread.
How to shape speculoos
Now, let’s talk about the shape of the speculoos. Several options are available to you :
You can bake only one large biscuit that will be broken once cold, or you can cut with a cookie cutter before baking. You can also find speculoos silicone molds that will work just as well.
But the most traditional way of shaping the Belgian cookie is the wooden mold that leaves an imprint on the biscuit surface. These prints can represent flowers, a tree, animals, figurines, scenes of everyday life, and many others … or even Saint Nicholas.
In the Middle Ages, there was a special profession that was specialized in carving these wooden molds, and the artists who made them were part of an association.
For my part, I obviously chose the most traditional method: the wooden mold with prints.
My “taster” for this homemade speculoos recipe was Mony, and he’s none other than Mike’s dad. And the father is as demanding as the son!
Mony is an unconditional fan of “the original speculoos”. He hasn’t given me his verdict just yet, but I have already been warned that “the original speculoos” was going to be difficult to beat! Well, I am waiting… and I am scared!
- 4 cups flour , sifted
- 1-½ brown vergeoise (soft brown sugar)
- 1 cup butter (at room temperature)
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder , or baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground anise
- ¼ teaspoon salt
With a spatula, mix the butter with sugar, salt and spices. Add the eggs one by one and mix well.
Gradually add the flour mixed with the baking powder until obtaining a homogeneous dough.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.
Thoroughly dust the work surface with flour and the rolling pin. Roll the first piece dough to a thickness of ¼ inch.
Cut the dough with a knife or a cookie cutter and use the wooden or silicone mold to make some prints on the speculoos.
Place the speculoos on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 10 minutes.
Renew the operation until all the dough is used.
When they are out of the oven, wait a few minutes before placing the speculons on a rack and let them cool completely before storing them in a tin box.