Anybody wanting to investigate the gastronomic history of Hasselt will always come across Jenever, a kind of gin. Hasselt has more to offer, though. One of its other delicious highlights is Speculaas. It’s a kind of shortcrust biscuit with almonds. Many bakeries in Hasselt claim to have the oldest recipe. The origin of the recipe, however, is questionable. Research has recently shown that Hasselt already had Speculaas in the 1830s. The bakeries in Hasselt gave a certain kind of crusty brown cake to the Belgian army, which was on its way to the independence war with the Netherlands. Another story is that the delicacy found its origin in the dozens of Jenever distilleries in Hasselt. There, they had a lot of leftovers of sugar. Brown sugar was made from partially burned sugar. Mix this sugar with flour and butter and you will understand how the Speculaas was born. It is not only the origin of Speculaas that is questionable. The history of the name is also uncertain. One interpretation is species, a bastardization of the French word for spices, épices. There is indeed a lot of speculation about the name! Speculaas became famous in Belgium and abroad at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. This is mainly the achievement of Josephe Antoine Deplée, born in 1831. He grew up in a family of liqueur distillers and he was the first to add liqueur to the recipe, in 1870. He even acquired a licence for Hasseltse Speculaas: "une espèce de pain d'amandes connu sous le nom de spéculation" (a kind of almond "bread" known by the name spéculation). He sold his Speculaas in Belgium and also abroad for the first time. So, before the First World War, he became one of the most famous bakers of Hasselt.Most of the different recipes stayed in families. Fathers gave them to their sons, who in turn gave them to theirs. So the origin of the oldest recipe will probably always remain uncertain.One thing is sure: the way you deal with the dough is very important. Remember the words of Magda: “It’s all in the kneading.”
Start the day before. Take one kilogram of flour. Mix with the sugar. Add the cinnamon and bicarbonate. Divide the butter into cubes and pour over the dough. Add the egg yolks. Whip the egg white. Knead till the dough is elastic and smooth. Add the egg white with a spatula. Finally, add the almonds and gin. Mix well, cover, and leave to stand for one night. The next morning, knead the dough again. Divide into small pieces. Make little biscuits. Put the biscuits on a baking tray. Place the tray in the oven for 17 minutes at 195°C. Take the speculaas out of the oven, allow to cool, and serve with a good cup of coffee.