Speculaas (or is it speculoos, as the Larousse Gastronmique said in 1934?) is one of the most popular Flemish biscuits. There’s always a reason to dunk a speculaas in your coffee. The Lotus brand is one of the most popular. You will also find them coated in chocolate… a real Belgian treat! And then there’s La Maison Dandoy. This bakery sells the biscuit freshly baked with an earthy homemade flavour.
Speculaas is a biscuit full of herbs and spices. The spicy taste comes from pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, anise, coriander, allspice and clove, but there are also variations with mace and fenugreek. It is likely that for a long time here in these parts we baked speculaas with much fewer herbs than we are now used to; spices were exclusive and pricey, after all. It wasn’t until exotic herbs became affordable to everyday folk that our speculaas became as spicy as it is today. Some bakers now bake ‘blonde speculaas’ without speculaas spices: this lightly coloured biscuit gets its caramelised flavour from the candy sugar and is more popular with some than its spicy counterpart.
Speculaas is baked a little differently everywhere: the people of Limburg, for example, pride themselves on their Hasselt speculaas. This fluffy speculaas is baked in ‘chunks’ and is more subtly seasoned than the crispy speculaas found in the rest of Flanders. The inhabitants of Hasselt like to drink a glass of chilled jenever with their speculaas, enjoying two regional products at the same time.
The speculaas biscuit has a history that goes back centuries. In the early Middle Ages, sweet biscuits were baked in our part of the world that were seasoned with anise, to offer up to the gods. This pagan custom was usually practised around the winter solstice. The biscuits for this ancient ritual were adorned with animal scenes. When Christianity became widespread, the speculaas remained popular, but images of saints ended up on the biscuits. Later on, pictures of carnival or crafts were also used. The drawings were carved into wooden planks, often in hard fruitwood such as pear wood.