anise seeds: 2 posts

Belgian Gingerbread Treasure : Speculoos (Speculaas)

It’s called spéculoos in French, speculaas in Dutch, and Spekulatius in German, but by whatever name you call this fragrant gingerbread cookie, it will always evoke the scent of holidays in this part of the world. Speculoos may look humble, but take one bite, and you will know why it’s a favorite among Belgians. Perfumed with cinnamon, clove and cardamom, the cookie tastes of butter and caramel, and it’s impossible to have just one.

For me, speculoos is one of the quintessential Belgian tastes. Of course, there are also fries and waffles, but speculoos have their place of honor in this small country of 10 million, bridging the cultural divide between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the North and Francophone Wallonia in the South. Speculoos are eaten all over the Benelux region, with some areas such as Hasselt specializing in their own unique versions. Traditionally, the cookies were baked to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 5th in the Netherlands and December 6th in Belgium, but today you can find them at bakeries all year round. In Paris you will be served your expresso with a square of dark chocolate, but your lait russe (café au lait) in Brussels will arrive with speculoos on the side.

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Dry Perfume for Gingerbread : Spice Blends

For some people the frankincense and myrrh of Christmas high mass evoke the memories of holidays, but for me these memories are evoked by the smell of spices. In the Soviet Ukraine of my childhood, the New Year’s Eve celebration replaced the religious holiday and turned Christmas traditions into customs with which to usher in the new year. The children on the other side of border received their presents from Santa Claus on December 25th but my present was delivered on Jan 1st by the socialist Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) whose red nose and coterie of pretty Snowmaidens gave him a decidedly rakish air.
spices-gingerbread-sm
As much as I was looking forward to the excitement of opening the gifts, I was even more excited to help with the holiday baking. The moment my grandmother reached for her box of spices it was a clear sign that we were going to fashion flour and sugar into something special—crisp gingerbread, honey and walnut cakes layered with lemony sour cream filling, cinnamon flavored poppyseed strudels, flaky millefeuille with vanilla custard… The words ‘special’ and ‘spices’ share the same root in most languages for a very good reason—spices are indeed exceptional in the  fragrant potential they contain. Even now, when I can easily find any spice and no longer have to ration my use of vanilla or saffron, I am just as moved by their fragrance as I was as a child.

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  • Charlotte Barrow in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: Which perfumes or perfume notes motivate and inspire you in difficult times? I have fragrances which make me feel happy, calm or energised, but none that make me feel specifically… April 3, 2020 at 7:08am

  • Victoria in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: Thank you very much, Marielle. I know this brand, but I’ve never tried Neiges. I’ll definitely look for a sample. April 3, 2020 at 5:03am

  • Marielle in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: I love your blog! I have been reading it for several years. The reviews are thoughtful and are dosed with creative, lovely prose. Have you ever reviewed Lise Watier’s Neiges?… April 2, 2020 at 8:18pm

  • John in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: You might try Valentino Uomo… The cacao-leather-lipstick idea made famous by Dior Homme, with an added dose of hazelnut cream and coffee. Technically masculine but v. unisex IMO. April 2, 2020 at 4:24pm

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