Speculoos, or speculaas, is one of the national treats of Belgium and the Netherlands. Traditionally, speculoos were baked on St. Nickolas’ Day (December, 6th), when children used to leave their shoes filled with carrots or hay by the chimneys only to find them filled with cookies the next morning. Even though speculoos can now be found in stores at any time of the year, they remain an obligatory element of the St. Nickolas’ Day celebration.
Speculoos are often called “gingerbread”, but they are a unique type of cookie. They are thin, crunchy, and made with spiced shortcrust pastry. The spices added to the pastry vary by region as there is no set recipe for speculoos. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves are among the most widely used spices. Speculoos always have a certain image stamped on the front side—it could be an animal, a plant, a house, a famous character from legends, Christmas and St. Nickolas’ Day stories, or any other picture.
The cookies became widespread in Belgium in the 17th century. This was the time when the Dutch East India Company started bringing a variety of spices to Europe. The spices were no longer expensive and luxurious, meaning ordinary Belgians could afford them and bake cookies.