This time we’re covering a Dutch traditional food in this series that has a specific season. Dutch speculaas is namely a product for November and December. So it’s the perfect moment to cover speculaas. Other foods covered in the series are Muisjes and Hete Bliksem.
Let’s find out the origins and history of speculaas. See what it’s made of, what’s the difference between speculaas and speculoos, the name explained and how to eat them the Dutch way.
Origins of Dutch Speculaas
The oldest sources that have been found that mention speculaas, say that it was connected with weddings, kermis (carnival/fair), Sinterklaas and the Advent.
A speculaaspop, large speculaas cookie in the shape of a person, was given by a man to a woman to point out that he saw her as a potential bride. The figures on the speculaas refer to this. The figures are such as the tree of live, a man planting a tree or a couple. On fairs it was bought and give to a romantic interest.
Further it became tradition to give a speculaaspop in a kids shoe around Sinterklaas. This was a gift, in that time kids got less candy and cookies. So such a large cookie was a real treat.
The last decennia, speculaas has become popular to eat throughout the whole year. This however is the smaller speculaas cookie.
What’s in It?
Speculaas is a flat cookie (shortbread cookie or biscuit) with speculaas seasoning in it. The cookie dough for speculaas is usually made with butter, castor or cane sugar, baking powder, speculaas seasoning, flour and salt. Almonds are added a lot of times as decoration. The cookie dough isn’t a dough that rises a lot in rest. However it’s usually kept in the fridge before baking cookies from it. The dough doesn’t rise, but the flavor of the spices can then penetrate the dough well. This normally takes one to two nights.
Speculaas seasoning usually consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. There are variations with cilantro, anise and mace.
Speculaas or Speculoos?
Speculoos is a similar, but different type of cookie. It’s the Belgium version of speculaas. The ingredients differentiate slightly. In the early 20th century the spices for speculaas seasoning were too expensive to be used in a popular mass product. So it was replaced with rock candy syrup or burnt sugar and cinnamon.
Both speculaas and speculoos are being sold in Belgium and the Netherlands nowadays.
Why we call it speculaas is not exactly known. There are several explanations for the name.
The Latin word speculum means mirror. Since the cookie is the mirror image of the mold it’s made in. This is a plausible explanation and is mostly seen as the best explanation.
Speculatie in Dutch means suspicion or reflection and it could have been named speculatie earlier on since it originally was a cookie for connoisseurs.
The word speculaas could also be derived from the Dutch word specerij (spice), since the spices is what determine the flavor of speculaas.
Speculaas is sold and prepared in different shapes. It can either be a speculaaspop, then it’s a large cookie, almost 30 centimeters/12 inches in length. It can also be smaller cookies, more the normal cookie size. Which has a windmill or other decoration on them. They’re rectangle shaped. Next to these it can also be in the shape of gingerbreadmen or speculaasmannetjes. Or as speculaasbrokken, then the speculaas is randomly broken up in huge chunks. The smallest shape are schuddebuikjes, which are round speculaas cookies with a diameter of about 1 cm/0.4 inches.
Then there’s gevulde speculaas, this is speculaas stuffed with almond paste. It’s a delicious combination. These cookies are either round shaped and the almost paste isn’t visible or square shaped and then you can see the layer of almond paste.
How do You Eat Speculaas?
The cookies are traditionally eaten around Sinterklaas. They’re either given in the shoe of kids or served with coffee or tea to visitors. It’s tradition that in the lead up to 5 December kids get to place their shoe and they get a small present in it. This can be speculaas or kruidnoten.
Nowadays the normal sized speculaas cookies are served the whole year long along with coffee or tea. The normal sized speculaas cookies are also eaten on a slice of bread with butter. This will be either for breakfast or lunch.
Schuddebuikjes are eaten on slices of bread with butter, as breakfast or lunch.
Speculaasbrokken, gevulde speculaas, speculaasmannetjes or a speculaaspop are always eaten as a cookie around Sinterklaas time.
All these variations of speculaas are sold in stores in the period of September till December. Schuddebuikjes and the normal sized speculaas cookies are sold year round in grocery stores. People also bake them at home, special wooden molds are sold in stores to make the speculaaspoppen and smaller cookies.
Speculaas is also added to other products, such as ice cream or vla.
In restaurants or cafes you can get speculaas as a cookie on the side of your coffee or tea.
That’s All About Dutch Speculaas
So now you know everything there is to know about this Dutch cookie.