In February of this year I was in Belgium. It sounds so far away from where I am at this moment that it’s quite hard to comprehend. Like a lame tourist, I indulged in waffles and ‘frites’ because I believed that was what I was supposed to do. I bought loads of chocolate (some amazing, some disappointing) and generally ignored the fact that my cholesterol was probably going through the roof! But speculoos was a shining beacon of delicious individuality amidst all the tourist trappings.
Brussels is crazy and odd and charming and loveable. Despite staying in a really rough part of town, I couldn’t help but love it. Brussels is like that uncle that most families have – he’s kind of loud and brash, but he’s full of good stories and he’s likeable despite all of his eccentricities. I loved Belgium for its cobbled streets and odd buildings, its crazy history and the eclectic architecture. In the centre of Brussels we found weird puppets in a restaurant we were dining in – because of a lack of seating we had to share a table with a life sized puppet!! There was the Manneken Pis, which canny marketers take advantage of – the little naked child is apparently deeply rooted in Belgian folklore, so he appears in shop fronts, on chocolates, as wind instruments, on packaging. He is everywhere.
I love Belgium because it is odd. In the main square of Brussels, the Boy and I went into a museum and had a giggle at odd table centrepieces which were shaped like food…and not even pretty food, really obscure things. I forgot to Instagram them (very uncharacteristic of me), but I did take a photo.
I know this isn’t a travel blog, so I’ll just include one more picture – the Grand Place was always packed with tourists, but it was so beautiful. It was also where I discovered speculoos bisciuits, which are kind of gingerbready and spicy. I had trouble pinpointing what the flavours were, and shop assistants didn’t seem to know either, they just told me it was a traditional Belgian spice mix. The Boy and I, along with a friend who travelled with us took to saying “speculooooos” at odd times – it’s such a fantastic sounding word, and the taste is equally as appealing. In Australia we don’t have speculoos, which makes me sad. And I can’t find an equivalent. What I have found, however, is a spice mix called “quatre epices” which promises to give the same flavouring. Making these biscuits was a delicious experience – it brought back great memories of adventuring and reminded me how important it is to surprise your tastebuds sometimes.
- 3 1/2 cups plain flour
- ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp bicarb
- 3 tsp spice mix
- 140g butter
- 4 tbsp milk
Mix your flour, brown sugar, bicarb and spices together thoroughly. Dice up your butter and mix to make a soft dough, adding in the milk when it gets hard to mix. Cling wrap and refrigerate the dough for about 20 minutes to make it a little firmer.
Preheat your oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper, set to one side.
The biscuits won’t rise much, so if you want thick biscuits (which is how I like them!) make sure that you don’t roll your dough too thinly. Grab any shape of cutter that you want (I went for square, as I only came across square or rectangular Speculoos biscuits in Brussells.) Transfer your cut biscuits to your baking tray and pop them in the oven for 12-14 minutes.
Your house should fill with a gorgeous, almost Christmas-like smell. If you want some sugar sprinkled on the top of your biscuits (like in the picture), whip the biccies out of the oven one minute before they’re ready and sprinkle with granulated or caster sugar, then return them to the oven for the remaining minute. Enjoy with a nice rich hot chocolate – I’m lead to believe that that’s how the Belgians do it, but do we really need an excuse to drink hot choccie?