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What Is Speculoos?

By Karize Uy
Updated May 16, 2024
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Speculoos is a kind of crunchy cookie or a flat biscuit popular in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Its shape is usually rectangular with a decorative image imprinted on the cookie’s face, although modern versions of the cookie can be in varied shapes. These cookies can be eaten warm or cold and are a good accompaniment to beverages such as tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

There are many variations of the name of the cookie, depending on the country. Speculoos is commonly called as such in France, but is known as “speculaas” in Netherlands and “speculatius” in Germany. The origin of the word is not certain, but some say that “speculoos” comes from the word “specerij,” which means “spice" in Dutch. Others credit the Latin word “speculum,” pertaining to the wooden mold used for the cookies.

Traditionally, speculoos was baked on St. Nicholas Day’s Eve, on the fifth or sixth of December. The decorative images on the cookies were usually characters or scenery taken from accounts told about St. Nicholas. The most common image would be St. Nicholas himself, sometimes decorated with edible red dye for his red-hooded coat. According to the Belgian and Dutch Christmas customs, children would fill their shoes with hay for the horse of St. Nicholas and would place the footwear near the chimney. The next morning, the shoes would be filled with speculaas and other presents.

Speculoos cookies use common ingredients such as butter, flour, and eggs, but what gives the cookie its unique flavor is the Belgian brown sugar called “vergeoise brune," made from beets. This sugar also gives the cookie its rich brown color. Modern recipes usually substitute the vergeoise brune for dark brown sugar that is more widely available. Another factor that makes these cookies so unique is the use of varied spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and even pepper. Chopped nuts such as almonds and walnuts can also be added for texture and flavor.

The dough is usually prepared by mixing the dry ingredients separately from the wet ingredients. The dry ingredients are then slowly added to the mixed wet ingredients until the ingredients have blended well. It is important, however, not to mix the dough too much or too quickly, as this might result in very hard cookies. The dough is then rolled thinly, cut into pieces, molded, and baked. Many recipes would recommend refrigerating the dough first before stamping it with the mold, as the imprint would be more apparent.

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Discussion Comments

By anon994888 — On Mar 15, 2016

Check out my Dutch grandmother's sweet tasting speculaas spice mix called vandotsch speculaas spice mix.

By anon299784 — On Oct 26, 2012

I bought some speculoos cookies and a bottle of speculoos liqueur in France two years ago. The cookies are long gone, but the liqueur is on its last legs. I am looking for a recipe to try to duplicate the speculoos liqueur.

By SarahSon — On Jan 21, 2012

@sunshined - I have not heard of speculoos spread but have heard of speculoos ice cream. Has anybody every tried this?

Since I love the sweet, spicy taste of speculoos cookies, I can only imagine how much I would enjoy this tasty treat in a cold dessert.

I ran across a recipe online that was a lemon speculoos ice cream served with poached peaches. It looked like it would be a little labor intensive, but the results would probably be worth it.

By sunshined — On Jan 20, 2012

If you love the taste of speculoos cookies, you will love the taste of speculoos spread. You can find this at some of the specialty grocery stores or a European import store.

This is a spread that has the same spicy, gingery taste of the cookies, but it is creamy and comes in a jar.

This spread is very addicting and I have a hard time not eating it straight out of the jar. It tastes wonderful over toast, waffles and bagels. Sometimes I even mix it in with my oatmeal for a little bit of spice.

If you don't live close to a specialty store where you can buy speculoos spread, your best bet would be to see if you can find it online.

By LisaLou — On Jan 19, 2012

@John57 - I was introduced to speculoos cookies by a co-worker, and since then have made them several times.

I don't vary the traditional recipe by much. Some of them only call for cinnamon as a spice, but I like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and some cloves.

Instead of making them in a bar shape, I have used regular cookie cutters for a variety of shapes. Sometimes I even drizzle some white chocolate over them for a little bit of extra sweetness and a nice touch.

The list of speculoos ingredients needed are usually things I have around the house. I will use the dark brown sugar for these and haven't noticed any difference in the taste from the one time I tasted them with vergeoise brune.

By John57 — On Jan 19, 2012

When I was on a trip to France I had many chances to taste these delightful cookies. Until then I had never heard of them before, but they reminded me of eating a gingersnap cookie.

These are especially wonderful served warm with a cup of hot tea. The perfect snack for any time of the day.

When I was in France you saw these cookies for sale in many of the shops. Most of the ones I saw were not stamped with St. Nicholas, but with their brand name. I wonder if this is different around the holiday time.

These would be a wonderful cookie to make and have at home. Most of the speculoos recipes look like they have most of the same basic ingredients in them. I love a slightly spicy snack, and these would be perfect warm from the oven.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 18, 2012

Speculoos cookies are absolutely delicious. They have so many interesting flavors that all work together to form a cohesive taste.

The dark brown sugar makes them taste slightly like chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate. The cinnamon gives them a hint of gingerbread flavor.

My aunt used to make these cookies, and rather than straight red dye, she would put food coloring on sugar crystals and sprinkle them onto the tops of the cookies before baking them. I loved the texture and the sweetness of the cookie tops.

By Oceana — On Jan 18, 2012

Refrigerating the dough definitely makes it more workable. Otherwise, you will be dealing with a limp lump of dough that does not want to cooperate.

I find that refrigerating speculoos cookie dough for about an hour will firm it up just enough that you can easily imprint images onto it. Also, it makes it easier to shape and cut the dough.

Anyone who has ever tried cutting dough right after mixing it knows that it will be sticky and will cling to the cutter mercilessly. Refrigerated dough holds its shape so much better.

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