|Place of origin||Netherlands, Belgium|
|Main ingredients||Flour, sugar, butter, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg|
Speculoos (Dutch: Speculaas Dutch pronunciation: [speːkyˈlaːs], French: spéculoos, German: Spekulatius) is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for consumption on or just before St Nicholas' feast in the Netherlands (December 5), Belgium (December 6), and around Christmas in the westernmost parts of Germany. Speculoos are thin, very crunchy, slightly browned and, most significantly, have some image or figure (often from the traditional stories about St. Nicholas) stamped on the front side before baking; the back is flat.
Speculoos dough does not rise much. Dutch and Belgian versions are baked with light brown (beet) sugar and baking powder. German Spekulatius uses baker's ammonia as leavening agent. Spices used in speculoos are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. Most Speculoos versions are made from white flour, brown sugar, butter and spices. Some varieties use some almond flour and have slivered almonds embedded in the bottom. Some Belgian varieties use less or no spice.
To make the dough, butter, sugar and spices are combined. The flour and leavening agent are mixed separately and then added. Bakers carefully ensure the dough doesn't heat too quickly. The dough is stored in a cool place overnight to give the spices time to permeate the dough and add extra flavor.
There are several interpretations for the origins of the name Speculoos. It may derive from Latin speculum, which means mirror, and refer to the fact that the images are cut as a mirrored bas-relief into a wooden stamp which is then used to decorate the Speculoos. Another explanation of the name refers to the Latin word speculator which, among other meanings, could also refer to a bishop or St Nicholas' epithet "he who sees everything". Specerij, the Dutch word for spice, is another possible origin.
The Belgian city of Hasselt is known for a local variety of speculoos. On January 13, 1870 Antonie Deplée, a baker from Hasselt, acquired a license for Hasselt speculoos: "une espèce de pain d'amandes connu sous le nom de spéculation" (A kind of almond "bread" known under the name spéculation.) He sold this version locally and abroad.
The German Spekulatius, traditional in Westphalia and the Rhineland, is of the same origin and is very similar. It is popular throughout the country around Christmas and usually not available at other times of the year.
By 2007, several Belgian companies began marketing a paste variant of speculoos, now available worldwide under various brands and names: as Speculla, Cookie Butter (e.g., by Trader Joe's), Speculoos, Biscoff Spread or Speculoospasta (e.g., by Lotus Bakeries).
In the area of Europe centered on Eeklo, Belgium, local workers had long known that a sandwich made in the morning with butter and speculoos cookies would develop a spread-like consistency by lunchtime.
In 2008, two competitors entered a contest on the Belgian television show, The Inventors (de Bedenkers), with a spread made from speculoos cookies — Els Scheppers, who reached the semi finals, and the team of chef Danny De Mayer and Dirk De Smet, who weren't selected as finalists. Spreads made from crushed Speculoos cookies would subsequently go into production by three separate companies, and by the time they arrived in Belgian supermarkets, Speculoos spread caused a sensation, taking the "Benelux market by storm."
The companies manufacturing the spread were Biscuiterie Willems, Vermeiren Princeps and Lotus Bakeries of Belgium — with Lotus Bakeries subsequently claiming exclusive rights, having purchased the recipe from contestant Scheppers of the television competition. The two competitors, Scheppers as well as De Mayer & De Smet, had presented nearly identical speculoos-based spread recipes, with the latter claiming to hold a patent. De Mayer/DeSmet's recipe was marketed beginning in November 2007 as Speculla, and Scheppers recipe by Lotus Bakeries arrived in early spring 2008 as Speculoospasta. Lotus subsequently also purchased the De Mayer/De Smet patent.
A two-year patent battle ensued between Lotus and Biscuiterie Willems and in January 2011, Lotus Bakeries' patent was nullified by the Commercial Court of Ghent (Belgium), which discovered the recipe had been posted on an internet website, Oma Wapsie (Grandma Wapsie), since 2002.
- Discover the Belgian Speculoos Cookie
- "Speculoos Cookie Butter". Trader Joe's.
Speculoos Cookie Butter is, in its most simplistic terms, spreadable Speculoos cookies. Speculoos cookies are classic Belgian cookies with great crunch, and a slightly caramelized, almost-but-not-quite-gingerbread flavor. After the cookies are baked to a fabulous finish, they’re crushed into a fine powder and mixed with magical ingredients (read: vegetable oils) and turned into a smooth, spreadable substance we call Cookie Butter. It resembles peanut butter in color and consistency.
- "A Cookie Paste Squeezed in the Middle of a Debate". New York Times, Steven Castle, February 15, 2011.
In an earlier era, blue-collar workers used speculoos as a sandwich filling (cheaper than cheese or meat) between pieces of buttered bread. By lunchtime the cookies would have softened into a paste.
- "Belgian’s popular bread spread not longer protected". Wolters Kluwer Law and Business, February 2011.
- "Lotus heeft geen alleenrecht op speculoospasta". De Redactie, 20 Jan 2011
- "Lotus loses patentcase on Speculoospasta". NL Ministry of Economic Affairs, Patent Office, February 2011.
- Oma Wapsie is de echte bedenker van speculaaspasta, Het Nieuwsblad, 20 januari 2011