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Belgium

26 October 2020

Spéculoos (Christmas Cookies)

Belgium: Spéculoos (Christmas Cookies), 26 October 2020. Images from bpost.

Technical Specifications:

Speculoos
9,80 €
Theme: Speculoos is a baked cake in which spices for speculoos are used. The biscuit is particularly popular during the St. Nicholas period. According to earlier sources, it was also popular at weddings and fairs. In recent decades, it has become normal to eat speccloos all year round, especially with coffee or tea.
Postage stamps: a. St. Nicholas speculoos mold and cinnamon sticks b. Speculoos in the shape of St. Nicholas and spices with speculoos, e.g. cloves and star anise
Leaf: Speculoos Stacking Copyrights: Speculoos Mould: Evelyne Bleeckx – Art’n Wood Sculpture Biscuit and Photo: Luc Longin
Creation: Layout Myriam Voz
Stamp format: 27.66mm x 48mm
Leaf format: 165mm x 200mm
Sheet composition: 10 postage stamps (5×2 stamps)
Value: Standardized shipments up to 50g
For formats:
Paper: FSC white scrubbed
Dentelure: 11 1/2
Printing process: Offset
Issue date: October 26, 2020
Repro and Print: Philately bpost and Stamps Printing

Full Sheet of 10 Stamps:

Speculaas or speculoos (Dutch: Speculaas, Belgian-Dutch: speculoos, French: spéculoos, German: Spekulatius) is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for consumption on or just before St Nicholas’ day in the Netherlands (5 December), Belgium (6 December), Luxembourg (6 December), and around Christmas in Germany and Austria. Speculaas are thin, very crunchy, caramelized, slightly browned and, most significantly, have some image or figure (often from the traditional stories about St. Nicholas) stamped on the front side before baking; the back is flat. Speculaas are also found in Indonesia and locally known as spekulaas or spekulaaskoekjes. In Indonesia, this dish usually served during Christmas or other occasion.

Speculaas dough does not rise much. Dutch and Belgian versions are baked with light brown (sometimes beet) sugar and baking powder. German Spekulatius uses baker’s ammonia as leavening agent. Spices used in speculaas are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and white pepper; these were common in the 1600–1700s due to the Dutch East Indies spice trade. Family recipes may also include small amounts of other spices like anise, etc. Traditionally, speculaas were made from Frisian flour and spices. The name speculoos was coined for Belgian wheat flour cookies with hardly any spices. Today most speculaas versions are made from white (wheat) flour, brown sugar, butter and spices. Some varieties use some almond flour and have slivered almonds embedded in the bottom.

Speculaas spices: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg

The dough is prepared by beating butter, sugar and spices and combining them. The flour and leavening agent are mixed separately and then added. Bakers are careful not to overwork the dough, so it will rise slightly. The dough is stored in a cool place overnight to give the spices time to permeate the dough and add extra flavor.

There are several interpretations for the origins of the name speculaas. It may derive from Latin speculum, which means mirror and refers to the fact that the images are cut as a mirrored bas-relief into a wooden stamp, which is then used to decorate speculaas. Another, less likely, word origin refers to the Latin word speculator which, among other meanings, could refer to a bishop or St Nicholas’ epithet, “he who sees everything”. Still another possible source is Specerij, the Dutch word for spice.

A variant of the Dutch speculaas is the Belgian speculoos. Fewer spices (mostly just caramelized sugar as base ingredient) are involved in the process of making Belgian speculoos compared to the Dutch speculaas, as the spices were much more expensive to import to Belgium as opposed to the Netherlands. Belgian speculoos was developed in the 20th century around the area of Verviers, and made as an alternative for people who couldn’t afford the real Dutch speculaas.

Speculaas: ship, farmhouse, elephant, horse

The Belgian city of Hasselt is known for a local variety of speculoos. On 13 January 1870, Antoine Deplée, a baker from Hasselt, acquired a licence for Hasselt speculoos: “une espèce de pain d’amandes connu sous le nom de spéculation” (“a kind of almond ‘bread’ known under the name spéculation”). He sold this version locally and abroad.

The German Spekulatius, traditional in Westphalia and the Rhineland, is similar. It is popular throughout the country around Christmastime and usually not available at other times of the year.

In Europe, Lotus Speculoos is the most recognized brand. In the United States and United Kingdom, the same company is branded as Lotus Biscoff. In Oct 2020, Lotus Bakeries decided to omit the word “speculoos” from local markets, to uniformize their brand. Several chains of supermarkets have started their own product under their generic name. In the US, you will often find the reference to Windmill Cookies or Almond windmill cookies, which are mostly based on Speculoos. Speculaas is often produced under local bakeries’ brand names as well.

In the United States, the California-based and German-owned variety grocery store chain Trader Joe’s sells their own select brand of cookie butter, a thick buttery paste made up of the cookies, as well as their own cookie butter ice cream.

Schuddebuikjes: spread for bread made of speculaas, the Netherlands, 2019

By 2007, several Belgian companies began marketing a paste variant of speculoos, now available worldwide under various brands and names: as Speculla, Cookie Butter, Biscoff Spread. As a form of spreadable Speculoos cookies, the flavor is caramelized and gingerbread-like, with a color similar to peanut butter and a consistency ranging from creamy to granular or crunchy. The spread consists of 60% crushed speculoos cookies along with vegetable oils.

Workers in the Low Countries traditionally made a sandwich in the morning with butter and speculaas or speculoos cookies. This would develop into a spread-like consistency by lunchtime. In 2008, two competitors entered a contest on the Belgian television show, The Inventors (de Bedenkers), with a spread made from speculoos cookies — Els Scheppers, who reached the semi-finals, and the team of chef Danny De Mayer and Dirk De Smet, who weren’t selected as finalists. Spreads made from crushed Speculoos cookies would subsequently go into production by three separate companies and become popular.

First Day Sheet:

FDS – Speculoos
6,75 €
First Day Sheet with the show “Spéculoos”, the biscuit particularly popular during the period of St. Nicholas.
FDS with a first day obliteration and presenting on the back an interesting N/F text on the theme, as well as all the technical characteristics of the postage stamp issue.
Issue date: 26/10/2020
Product code: 00000031631

First Day Cover:

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