Saint Nicholas speculoos

Living in Europe, I’ve become a huge speculoos fan! What is speculoos? It’s a thin, crunchy, spiced shortcrust biscuit. Traditionally, speculoos was only baked around Christmastime, especially on the eve of Saint Nicholas; now, they are available year-round.

Speculoos became popular when medieval crusaders brought back exotic spices like nutmeg, cardamom and ginger from the Middle East.

The front of the cookie is always stamped with an image, impressed by a cookie board on the thin dough before baking. Catholic monks began baking them in the shape of religious figures for holidays and saints’ days, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, the images shifted to include castles, royal figures, animals, windmills, houses and geometric patterns.

The type of cookie you get depends on whether you are in the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany. The Germans and Dutch use more cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, while the Belgian recipe favors mostly cinnamon and nutmeg. The Germans use a leavening agent while the Dutch and Belgian versions are flat. In any country, the essential spices are cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cloves and white pepper.

In other countries, relatives of speculoos include France’s pain d’epices and Italy’s panforte.

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