Sauced: Speculoos Spread
As I made my way from my home to the train one brisk winter's day about two years ago, I was blinded by the sun saturating the bright yellow paint of a food truck parked by the station entrance. I live in a rather family oriented, residential corner of the city, and aside from the halal and coffee carts that have likely been around for decades, it had never been food truck territory. It was an exciting new prospect, and I enthusiastically marched over for a taste of the waffles this cart was slinging.
As I approached the counter, I noticed a waffle choice that was adorned with speculoos spread, which became my wife's meal choice that day. Both truck and speculoos spread have certainly been around for a while, but at that moment, both were new to me. As soon as I had my first taste of the thick and sweet spiced cookie spread, I was instantly hooked.
What is Speculoos?
Speculoos may have been a foreign word to me at that time, but I quickly found that I was already familiar with the namesake crispy Belgian shortbread cookies, commonly spiced with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cardamon. The most prolific brand of speculoos cookies in the United States are Biscoff, which just so happens to be the same brand distributed on the numerous Delta flights I've taken over the years.
Speculoos cookies have long been a traditional part of the feast of St. Nichola in Belgium and the Netherlands, but their popularity has more recently made them available year-round and across the globe. This international fascination is what led to the formal invention of speculoos spread—a thick and smooth spreadable iteration of these cookies—in 2007. Stateside, the spread can most commonly be found under the Biscoff name in groceries or as Speculoos Cookie Butter at Trader Joe's.
Although it's not hard to find a great speculous spread if you know where to look, I wanted to see if I could reproduce it at home. I like a challenge and figured it might wind up coming in at half the cost, to boot. The ingredient list on the Biscoff spread is mainly cookies and oil, so I figured I'd take stab by just grinding the two together. But while it made a spread in no time, it was gritty and oily—certainly not Serious Eats caliber stuff. I quickly realized that I needed to get my cookies into a smooth state before mixing them with the fat. And what, I ask you, softens cookies better than milk?
The first spread also lacked some sweetness, so I started my next batch off with both brown sugar and milk, heated slightly to help the sugar dissolve. I added about 3/4 of a sleeve of Biscoff cookies, which quickly swelled and broke down into a smooth, thick paste that already tasted like a thinned-out speculoos spread.
My next step was to switch from canola oil to vegetable shortening, for a neutral fat that would solidify at room temperature for better texture and consistency. I melted the shortening, slowly poured it into the cookie mixture in a running food processor, jarred it, and then waited for it to cool and thicken.
After about an hour in the fridge, it was pretty darn close to the peanut butter-like viscosity of the store-bought spread. But I was after perfection, something a little thicker, a little sweeter, and a little more spiced—the milk and shortening had diluted some of that distinctive flavor.
With my last sleeve of Biscoffs, I tried the recipe out using less milk, more sugar, more vegetable shortening, extra cinnamon, and bit of lemon juice to add a very slight acidic touch. All went according to plan: the final spread has a wonderfully smooth and thick texture, with the right level of sweetness and an enhanced spiced flavor. Most importantly, it tastes like a speculoos cookie in spread form, which I warn you is dangerously addictive.
About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment every other Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every other Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.