Behind the Recipe: The Spread of Speculoos

Was it in the 1990s—on a flight I otherwise can’t remember—when I first cracked the opaque plastic wrapper on the pair of thin cookies? They looked as drab as infant teething biscuits, but tasted like some stored cultural memory of Mittel-European glory, all caramelized sugar and cinnamon.

Turns out they were speculoos, the spiced brown sugar cookies (and Dutch or Belgian, not Central European) labeled Biscoff. It also turns out that the company that made them—Lotus Bakeries North America—was gearing up for a big U.S. presence, including a retail shop in the tourist throng zone near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (home of Biscoff's parent company, Lotus Bakeries North America).

Bigger even than in-flight giveaways and gift shops was the phenomenon of Biscoff Spread, whose rise to the ultimate mark of success a food product can have—showing up as a Trader Joe’s knockoff (called Speculoos Cookie Butter)—has to be among the most unlikely food stories of the 21st century. Seriously? A spreadable form of an arguably obscure Flemish cookie rises to player status on the shelves at Walmart? CHOW’s Supertaster did his own marveling in May, after discussions raged on Chowhound.

Then yesterday, CHOW's Test Kitchen weighed in with our own recipe for spreadable speculoos, Spiced Cookie Butter. This is the one I’d serve to my kids, if I had any. I prefer to restrict my speculoos experience to some crowded coach flight to Atlanta. At least there, with the seat in front of me cranked back to maximum recline, locked with the lady in the next seat in some wordless battle for the armrest, the randomness of perfect little Belgian cookies might still have the power to charm.

Image source: Flickr member absenthero under Creative Commons

John Birdsall is senior editor at CHOW. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.