There are quite a few interpretations given for the origins of Speculaas. Some people say that it could have been taken from the Latin Term Speculum meaning mirror. There could be a connection because the Speculaas are molded and decorated using wooden stamps with imprinted images.
Another popular explanation to the name Speculaas is another Latin term Speculator, which could be a reference to St Nicholas himself as he is fondly described as the one who see everything. The Dutch term, Specerij, could also be considered as it translates to English as spice – Speculaas are spicy biscuits, after all. In Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, Speculaas are called Belgian Spice Cookies or Biscoff Cookies or Dutch Windmill Cookies.
As mentioned above, Speculaas have originated in Belgium and the Netherlands. Hasselt, a famous Belgian town has been actually popular because of its Speculaas.
Speculaas can be very Dutch because of the images used for decoration. In the United States, Speculaas are popular for its windmill design, which is why the name Dutch Windmill Cookies is quite apt. Both Belgian and Dutch versions are prepared with beet or light brown sugar and raising agent (baking powder, usually).
Tradition dictated the Speculaas be baked and served on the 5th or the 6th of December, for the St Nicholas’ Day Feast for the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively. Usually the images on the biscuits were the characters or the sceneries gathered from the stories on St Nicholas. The most popular Speculaas image is that of St Nicholas himself, with additional decoration of red dye (edible) as the red-hooded coat.
Dutch and Belgian Christmas customs wouldn’t be complete without the children filling up their footwear with hay intended for St Nicholas’ horse. The shoes are placed by the chimney and the children will be surprised to see their shoes filled with presents, and Speculaas would never be absent.
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.
Speculaas are thin, spicy biscuits that are slightly browned, very crunchy, and beautifully decorated with different images pertaining to St Nicholas and the events and sceneries surrounding his stories. It is only the front side that is stamped with images though and the back part remains flat.
Speculaas are baked with regular biscuit making ingredients like; flour, butter, sugar, leavening agent and spices. The preparation of course differs based on what part of the globe the biscuits are being baked. There are other ingredients added, and again whatever ingredients are added will be based on where the baking is taking place. Usually, white flour is used, but other versions are created using almond flour.
The most common spices being used for Speculaas include; nutmeg, ginger, white pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom. There’s no standard amount of spices to be used, sometimes the choice is based in individual taste preferences. For additional flavor and texture, some bakers use chopped almonds or chopped walnuts.
The dough is made in two separate mixing procedures. First, sugar, butter and the spices are mixed together. Then on another bowl, the flour and the leavening agent will go together before its addition to the first part of the dough. To prevent the dough to heat up fast, it is usually stored overnight in a cool place. This part of the preparation process is important because the spices are given enough time to effectively permeate so that the desired flavor is achieved.
Once the dough is ready, it is rolled very thin and then cut into desired sizes before the molding and the baking process. Some bakers say that the best way to achieve a good imprint is to refrigerate the dough prior to the stamping.
Speculaas are no longer served only for the St Nicholas day or for Christmas. They are now available the whole year round. Speculaas are great when you are also having tea or coffee. If you want to get a hold on the original Dutch recipe for the Speculaas, you should get a copy of Het Haagse Kookboek or The Hague Cookbook.
The recipe is very simple, as it calls for the most basic biscuit ingredients. Or so, as everyone thought. The fact is that, it is important to use the right flour (white flour), and the right type of sugar (basterdsuiker). Speculaas can come in different sizes. They can measure just like any other cookies or biscuits that will fit the palm of your hand, or they can be as big as a little child.
Some people try baking Speculass just for the sake of being able to use their molds, rather than to actually experience the baking process.