Speculoos are a specialty from the North of France and Belgium. Originally baked as a treat for St-Nicholas’ day, those thin, crunchy little cookies, flavored with spices, are baked in long rectangular molds that form a pattern on them : a saint’s figure or, more commonly nowadays, the brand name. They are baked year-round now, and are widely available in supermarkets all over France.
There are many versions of the recipe, some calling for cinnamon only, some also using ginger, cloves and nutmeg. But the cookie’s distinctive taste comes from the use of vergeoise brune : this is a delicious kind of brown sugar made from beet syrup, very common in Belgium, with thick crystals that look and feel as if they were slightly wet.
Depending on whom you ask, the name “speculoos” may come from the latin species which means spice, or speculator which means bishop. They go particularly well with coffee, and you are often served one with your espresso in cafés in the North of France and Belgium. They are also what I use to make the crust of cheesecakes on this side of the ocean, to excellent results.
The Biggest Speculoos in the World was brought back to us by Maxence’s mother, who recently went to Lille, a city in the North of France, in the French Flanders. She bought it in a small pastry shop, as indicated by the little golden sticker on the speculoos’ wrapper. The observant eye will notice, in passing, that the phone number on the sticker has only eight digits, which means that they were printed a good eight years ago, before we switched to ten digits in 1996. Either they ordered a truckload of these stickers back then, or they don’t sell quite as many speculoos as they had hoped.
Bigger and also thicker than the regular small ones, this giant speculoos has the same spiciness and crunchiness. It is slightly less sweet than the store-bought version, which is very pleasant, as it allows you to get a better taste of the spices. It is also extremely enjoyable to break off a chunk to nibble on, and I must admit to a huge soft spot for things which are on a widely different scale than their usual version, either gigantic or minuscule.