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Photo © Karin Engelbrecht
Definition: Speculaas = Dutch spiced cookies, logs or figurines

These delicious cinnamon-gingery treats are traditionally eaten at Sinterklaas, a Dutch festival on Dec. 5, but have become so popular that they're now enjoyed throughout the year.

It is thought that the Dutch name speculaas comes from the Latin speculum, which means mirror, as speculaas are the mirror image of the carved wooden molds they're baked in. Speculaas mostly comes in the form of windmill shaped cookies, logs or male or female figurines, known as vrijers (lovers), but they can take any shape. Young men used to decorate these figurines and give them to their sweetheart. If she accepted, she loved him back. That's where the Dutch expression for flirting, iemand versieren (literally 'to decorate someone'), comes from.

It is very likely that this was the first cookie introduced to North America by Dutch settlers in New Netherlands (a former colony on the eastern coast of North America, which stretched from latitude 38 to 45 degrees north, as originally discovered by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century). In fact, the English word cookie owes its existence to the Dutch koekje. You could argue that speculaas was the mother of all cookies!

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