|Saint Nicholas tending a barrel full of children was a popular early Speculoos mold design|
Most likely, the first European cookie consumed in America was a Speculoos made by Dutch settlers in New Netherland. In fact, the word cookie is thought to derive from koekje the Dutch term for cookie. The origin of the Belgian name Speculoos is lost to history, but it may come from the Latin speculum, meaning mirror, since the cookie is formed in a wooden mold. When the cookie is removed from the mold, it becomes a mirror image of the original design. Another theory suggests the word comes from Specerij, the Dutch word for spice, since the cookies contain many spices. Early designs had religious themes. Saint Nicholas tending a barrel full of children was one of the most common subjects. Over time other designs were used, including windmill cookies found in stores in the United States today. Originally, the cookies were produced for consumption on, or the day before, the St. Nicholas feast on December 6. Similar versions of the cookie can be found in Germany (Spekulatius), the Netherlands (Speculaas) and France (spéculoos). Following one Belgian tradition, children put shoes by the chimney before going to bed. If they’ve been good, they find their shoes filled with Speculoos and other goodies the next morning.
Making the dough is fairly straightforward, but producing a delicious, well-formed Speculoos cookie from a mold is challenging. Here's a link to our kitchen-tested version of the recipe with photos and hints:
To learn more about the making of traditional wooden Speculoos molds, see the article about master woodcarver, Oldrich Kvapil: