Biscoff Spread (Speculoos à Tartiner)

speculoos cream

I don’t have conclusive proof, but I’m going to say it anyways: the cashiers at my local Monoprix are perhaps the least pleasant people in all of France. I once needed to use their photo machine for some documents, which required a €5 note. So after waiting in two lines, asking two different cashiers to change a €20, they both refused. So I went downstairs to the supermarket and bought some groceries, which totaled something like €9.68.

When the cashier handed me back a €10, I politely requested 2 fives, mentioning that I needed one to use their photo machine. When she refused, I asked her why. And she snapped back, “Because I don’t have any change!” So I walked to the end of the counter where I could get a pretty clear view of her her cash box brimming with bills. Even though she had a sizable wad of €5 notes stacked up in there, if I wanted to change, I had to go back upstairs to the one particular register that is equipped to give change.

After waiting behind four customers, which I won’t tell you how long that took, when it was my turn, I handed over the €10, asking for 2 fives.

When she said, “What for?”…it took every gram of patience for me not to say, “So I don’t strangle you.”

Lucky for her, instead, I told Romain about it later that day. “You should’ve just gone to the métro station and used their photo machine. Plus they’ll give you change if you need it” he advised, as if that was the only natural thing to do. (But it’s not just change that’s in short supply; it’s sympathy as well. One day I went to pay, and frantically rummaging through my pockets, I thought I’d lost my wallet. The cashier’s response? She started laughing at me. ) It was then I realized that in France, social programs and public companies work much better than private ones. Except Apple, who I am convinced should run the country. And open a Genius Bar in city hall, while they’re at it.

speculoos in jar

If you want to see a French person go ballistic, ask them what they think of their bank. (Interestingly, defying any sort of logic, I just learned that I can only get change only at the branch of my bank where I opened my account, but not at any others.) But the métro, high-speed trains, and French health care system work exceedingly well. In fact, it was strange to watch the health care debate in America since that system is teeming with flaws, and not one time did I hear anyone talk about the French model.

speculoos jar

Most of the arguments against reform went along the lines of “I don’t want the government telling me what to do”, which is unusual because in France, the government doesn’t tell you what to do: your doctor prescribes treatment, then you get it done. There’s no gatekeeper or anyone deciding yes or no, except your doctor. And my doctor is so nice that she prescribed me a free colonoscopy earlier this year, which included a plateful of delicious madeleines in the recovery room afterward.

Even though it’s hard to get a free colonoscopy, I’d imagine, there’s plenty of other good things to be had in America. And when Romain and I went to Florida last year, I brought an empty suitcase just to fill up with all-American goodies at the supermarket. When we hit the register and I’d loaded up the conveyor belt with natural cocoa powder, cupcake liners, marshmallow cream, butterscotch chips, tinned tomatillos, unscented shaving gel, organic crunchy peanut butter, and Orville Redenbacker’s, I spotted the rack of candy, with York Peppermint Patties piled on it, and said aloud that I should’ve got one.

The cashier looked at me, and said, “Hold on just a minute.” Now to anyone who lives in France, you might want to sit down when you read this next line—she actually walked around the counter and grabbed one off the rack for me.

And of course, because I was getting one—even if he didn’t know what it was, Romain wanted one too. And when she looked into those sad French eyes of his, she said, “Honey, do you want one too?” and went over to get him one as well.

speculoos on bread

When we were back in Paris, telling his parents about the trip, I could detect him getting a little misty-eyed when he said, “And the supermarket— pas de stresse!.” Which was something I never really thought about, although I recounted some of the startling differences between upscale American supermarkets with my local one here in my Paris book.

In spite of the fact that Americans think the French only eat wonderful foods, a trip to the supermarket can yield some odd surprises. Yes, my supermarket carries every conceivable flavor of yogurt. Yet they don’t have plain. Harry’s Bread, the most popular bread in France, and similar to Wonder Bread, I just learned now comes in a crustless, snowy-white variety. And how surprised was I recently to see a group of teenagers walking out of a supermarket with a jumbo bag of Pepperidge Farms cookies, literally, the size of a sofa cushion.

However I’m not immune to this creeping bit of Americana dans le supermarché. And a while back I was in line, admiring the jars of Nutella lined up in the unreachable distance. While pondering getting out of line (I can’t imagine asking someone to hold you place while you ran to get something you forgot), I scanned the shelf and saw a jar of something called Speculoos à Tartiner.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, Speculoos are Belgian spice cookies, similar to gingersnaps. They have a bracing nip of spices, enhanced with dark brown sugar, and I don’t mind at all when I order a coffee and one comes alongside as a petit cadeau.

speculoos cream

When I worked at Chez Panisse way back when, the worst thing you could imagine was to run into a co-worker at…of all places, the supermarket. Because sure enough, there would inevitably be a box of Mallomars or Tostitos or a pack of Ballpark franks tossed in your cart. And you were completely busted.

So after I ended my three month boycott of Monoprix (an act which I’m sure went unnoticed), when I was coming home from Monoprix last week, hauling my reusable somewhat transparent shopping bag, I ran into not one…but four different readers…who stopped me to say hello. One told me that she “…laughed her ass off reading my Paris book.” I’m polite so I didn’t ask her to turn around for verification, but I took her word for her.

(To the cashiers at Monoprix: See? Is being polite really all that hard?)

In case any of those four people are reading this, the reason I was being so furtive was that I’d picked up a jar of Speculoos cream at long last. I don’t know if the French are label-readers like we Americans are, but I did take a look at the ingredients. I won’t recount what was in it, because I find all this talk about interdit ingredients a bit ennuyeax. In the states, everyone is in a tizzy about whatever is the bad-guy of the moment, and there were likely a few in there. But since the label proudly noted that this paste won a Saveur de l’année 2009, some sort of French taste award, I reasoned that if it’s good enough for French tastemakers, it’s good enough for me.

Luckily no one saw the forbidden jar in my sack—or they were just being polite, and when I got it home, I twisted off the top, curious to how a spread made with spicy cookies in it would taste.

speculoos spoon

Oh la vâche.

That means, sort of, “Holy cow!” in French. Of course, they don’t use the exclamation mark because that would be très américain. And aside from expecting an occasional token of kindness from the cashiers at the supermarket, I wouldn’t want to be accused of that either. Still, I gotta give it to those French tastemakers: the Speculoos à Tartiner was amazing. Imagine in not-too-sweet gingersnap, spicy and bold, that you can smear over a piece of baguette. Or lick right off the spoon. Move over Nutella. (Unless there’s a chocolate version. Then we’ll talk.)

This is a pretty big jar, and I feel a lot better now that I’ve come out and no longer feel the need to hide my jar of speculoos paste from passing strangers. But because it’s so good, I think I’d better hide it from myself, as this is seriously dangerous stuff. So hopefully this jar will likely last me a while. But if it doesn’t, I know where I can get more. And I’ll even brave the cashiers at the supermarket checkout to get it.



UPDATE: It seems as if this spread is finally be imported into the United States. It’s available on Amazon and may possibly be found in specialty food stores in your area. It’s also available through the Biscoff Online Store.



Related Links and Posts

Chocolate That’s “Too Good to Use”

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

WTF

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps

L’Enfer de Numericable

Wielding Her Tampon

Non-Fat Gingersnaps

15 Things I’d Miss About Paris If I Moved Away

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site

speculoos cream

Oddly, the “Biscoff spread” (as they call it elsewhere) keeps disappearing from the Biscoff website, which sells it in the United States. You might wish to inquire at the Lotus Bakeries worldwide site for availability.



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181 comments

  • May 20, 2010 5:57pm

    ugh, the saint-paul monoprix is the one i always go to because i find it has the biggest assortment out of all the other stores in the area. now i know all my smiling, “bonjour”, and “merci” won’t get me anywhere.

  • May 20, 2010 10:26pm

    I read this post and knew I had to find the spread as soon as possible, and luckily a few days later they restocked on the Lotus site. I excitedly ordered two, but neglected to notice that one order=two jars…so now I have four (probably the least tragic mistake ever made). I’m unsure whether to go the route I have so far since ripping open the package (just eating straight from the spoon), or finding a more creative way of using my abundance of Biscoff spread. Thanks for the recommendation! I always enjoy your posts!

  • susannah
    May 21, 2010 12:18am

    David, your Monoprix experience reminds me of a nightmare visit to Marks and Spencers foodhall in Covent Garden in London.
    The cashier wouldn’t look at us and they certainly don’t pack your purchases ( which is standard in Australia).
    But that’s nothing compared to the stand up row she had with the supervisor who told her to shift to another cash register.
    Her problem was the other register didn’t have a seat and this register did.
    All this happened midway through our items being processed…well, the checking stopped for a good 5 minutes while the argument raged.
    When the cashier lost the argument she finally continued, sulking and huffing and puffing, hurling our goods across the scanner and down the counter,
    She snatched our money, with no words, and off we went…..
    Service here at home is really pleasant.

    PS…oh, I so want to taste the Speculoos but can’t find it here.

  • May 21, 2010 1:49am

    I’ve only recently found your blog and totally love it and I have to tell you this post cracked me up. I WISH I could say I laughed my ass off (I could do with some of that)….oh how I wish laughing could be the weight loss answer.

    Anywho…..did you know that people in Canada are known for being polite? Come on over and check it out!

  • Marjorie
    May 21, 2010 4:23am

    Hello David !
    I often read your blog but this is my first comment. I laughed when reading your post because I spotted this “speculoos à tartiner” a few weeks ago at a “G20″ (in the 14ème arrondissement, where I live) and I was about to buy a jar but finally renouced : the list of ingredients could ruin a reputation !
    Maybe I will follow your example and give it a try next time…
    Thank you for your beautiful blog.

  • PFB
    May 21, 2010 8:43am

    how i enjoyed this post, and especially the commiseration regarding Monoprix surliness…I once witnessed a cashier at Monoprix loudly complaining about her hangover to a coworker–which, you know, would be fine but then began enguele-ing the man in front of me, because he tried to pay for some fruit and detergent with a 20 euro bill. she made him go to the bank and get change and come back.

    i mean, if you’re going to be surly, at least guard some mystery, right? you have more sympathy for a nasty worker if you think Monoprix is treating them poorly, blah blah blah. But using customers as your punching bag through a hungover haze…not nice.

  • May 22, 2010 5:47pm

    I tried the speculoos spread on a liege waffle from the Waffle and Dinges truck in NYC. Amazingly, unbelievably delicious. My mouth is watering as I reminisce about the fresh-from-the-waffle-iron, chewy and dense goodness that was covered by a generous layer of speculoos. Oof.

    Must pick up a jar or two of this when I visit Paris for the first time in a few weeks!

  • Ivy
    May 23, 2010 4:15pm

    David,
    Thanks for this piece and I’m hoping that someone who has some clout will figure out how to get Speculoos into the States. I’ve been hiding my jar of Speculoos from myself for about 6 months. It is in the cupboard and somehow stares at me from behind everything everytime it open the door! My dear friend who works for the Belgian Consulate in NYC got it for me (and i am in Chicago). It is a special morning when i have a piece of toast with Speculoos and a Nespresso :-)
    btw, love the blog…have been a long time reader and never commented but just had too when i saw we share a similar love!

  • Paula
    May 25, 2010 9:23pm

    I was so very intrigued by this post since i loooove Nutella that I just HAD to get my hands on some Speculoos. I found it at wafflecafe.com and I think their prices seem reasonable…and the best part – they’ll ship to Hawaii. The shipping cost is rather high, but hey, I’m willing to pay it to try some Speculoos…ooh I almost forgot – they even have it in CRUNCHY!

  • May 26, 2010 12:17am

    After reading this post, I couldn’t bear the curiosity and I bought some to try.

    I just placed my order and should be receiving two (count ’em, two!) jars in a week or so. I’m in the good ol’ États-Unis (USA). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a Speculoos (Biscoff on this side of the pond, apparently) cookie. My husband travels for work and said he eats them all the time on airplanes.

    After looking at those photos, I am eager to try it! The Biscoff site requires you to buy at least 2 jars at a time (at a price which it looks like other sites were selling it for just one jar), so I’m excited to spread the love and give a jar to someone…har har har, …’spread’.

    …If I can part with it, of course. It might just be too delicious.

    So excited to have found this blog and excited to try out a completely new food!

  • Idalina
    May 26, 2010 9:40am

    Cher David,

    Un mot pour vous dire que j’ai rapporté de Bruges (Belgique), de la confiture de Spéculoos, que j’ai acheté chez un épicier chez lequel je me fournis très souvent en confitures de toutes sortes.

    C’est évidemment délicieux.

    Si cela vous intéresse, je vous laisserais son adresse.

    Bien à vous.

  • Angie
    May 27, 2010 6:20pm

    For those of you in the states, Biscoff cookies can be found at Walgreens. I was shocked to see them there, but that’s where I have been getting my fix for the delicious cookies.

  • May 28, 2010 4:21pm

    Holy moly! I got my order of this wonderful stuff yesterday and I spread some over a banana waffle this morning. Yum! And someone said something about making ice cream with it? That sounds freaking fantastic. Thanks for introducing me to this, you should never be ashamed to have this in your bag.

  • May 29, 2010 9:57pm

    David, you might as well have said what my friend said the first time I tried choquettes: “Welcome to the addiction.”

    Also, I had a similar experience in the metro/Carrefour. My parents needed change for the photo machine for their Navigo cards. The metro staff claimed to not have any change. We went up to Carrefour, and they claimed to not have any change either. Even though I bought something. RIGHT. I finally convinced a woman selling produce outside to give me some change, only to discover that the photo machine in our stop was broken and we had to go to another one – with a transfer on the way. WTF!

  • Jane G.
    May 30, 2010 6:17pm

    I just had Speculoos, the Spread, at the Waffles & Dinges truck in NYC. I’d never heard of it. With sliced banana on a delicate, warm, just-made waffle, standing under an awning in the cool spring rain, yum. My girlfriend ID’d the flavor as graham cracker; I don’t know if the brand is different from the one you get in Paris (I’m pretty sure the owner of the truck is Belgian), but that was exactly right.

  • June 4, 2010 11:54pm

    Welp, I’m back with an update. The spread arrived…

    and it is AMAZING. Ugh…so delicious. And it’s not even bad for you. Well, I guess it depends what you consider bad, hahah.

    I just had to come back and update now that I’ve had a chance to taste it. Totally different. Totally delicious.

  • June 5, 2010 2:52pm

    A million bravos for this post. My time in France was riddled with such events and I always thought the rude behavior was directed at me–specifically. Who knew it was a national epidemic! Alwasy so good to hear your point of view on the little things that–it turns out–really are a big deal.

    I really appreciate your perspective on the French health care system. I agree, why can’t we just copy their blue print and keep our nice supermarket cashiers? I see it as a win win.

  • Theda
    June 8, 2010 12:56am

    I had a brief stint in Bruxelles — coffee and speculoos bring back warm memories (even if Bruxelles was often grey and cold). Must find Speculoos a Tartiner! Thank you for sharing your guilty pleasure with us.

  • June 10, 2010 9:16am

    yesterday, on the french channel M6, in the “100%mag” show, they were talking about Speculoos spread. there was a “promotrice” in a certain supermarket, who was offering small bites of speculoos spread on a piece of bread to clients passing by who liked it and thought it was a delicious way to eat and serve speculoos. i have tried the biscuits and not yet the spread, sounds interesting.

  • June 11, 2010 10:33am

    David, putting “Speculoospasta” – as we call it in Belgium – in your basket is nothing to be ashamed of!!

    Actually the product development story behind this delicious spread is quite interesting. On Flemish (Dutch part of Belgium) TV, there was an invention contest in 2007. One of the participants was Els Scheppers, a mother and speculoosfan. I don’t know about the situation abroad, but in Belgium a speculoos biscuit is popular for sipping in coffee to the limits the cookie falls apart. We also tend to have the strange habit to put speculoos cookies and butter on our bread in the morning. Preferably coffee sipped speculoos biscuits.

    Now it seems amazing that it took so long for someone to realize that if you put the speculoos cookies with some coffee in a jar and you put that on the table as a healthier alternative (it has grains!) for Nutella, you have a commercial winner idea!
    In the final product, the coffee got cancelled (parents don’t want their kids to be fed coffee) but replaced with some fat emulsion and the spread is (claimed to be) produced without artificial preservatives.

    The lady made it to the finals with her idea, but she didn’t win the contest. However, she made a deal with Lotus – the famous speculoos cookie producer – and the first months the product was ‘available’ in Belgian supermarkets, as soon as the jars were in the racks, they sold out… Actually having a jar of Speculoospasta in your basket was a sign of good taste, here in Belgium!

    It is nice to see that this type of delicacy is also internationally appreciated… Lotus has been expanding production capacity since the launch and I read they intend to conquer the USA market, too…

    For a picture of the “inventor” of Speculoospaste: Els (She also started developing her idea with Heinz (see the ketchup bottle!), but they had different views and stopped the collaboration.)

    Do try the crunch version! It’s even better than the original one! (I’m coming to Paris this weekend and could bring you one, if you’re interested.)

  • June 11, 2010 11:07am

    Hi Lisa: Thanks for the story. I was also told that Speculoos were good with beer as well, which makes sense in Belgium. The coffee sounds good, though, too!

  • Corey
    June 11, 2010 9:21pm

    David, after being REALLY impressed with your Banana-Coconut ice cream, I read some of your other posts, and had to order the Speculoos paste. It just arrived. I’m going to have to agree with a few of the other posters above. I do not taste anything remotely resembling a gingersnap. It practically screams “cinnamon graham cracker.” Do you really think that it tastes like a gingersnap? I’m kind of surprised, because your palate seems pretty dead on.

  • Lien
    July 26, 2010 7:18pm

    i have to admit that i am one of those who read the ingredient list religiously :-) … but your description of the Speculoos make me want to try, i wonder what interdit ingredients it has :-) … your mentioning about running into your Chez Panisse co-worker in the supermarket cracked me up, lol! Best regards.

  • Kees
    September 26, 2010 4:02pm

    Here’s one Dutchman’s view: Speculoos is one of the stupidest products I’ve ever heard of. SpeculAAs is a DUTCH cookie (Belgians somehow got the name wrong), mostly eaten round the 6th of december,the birthday of Sinterklaas. It’s a crunchy cookie, and the charm of a speculaas sandwich is the contrast between soft white bread (with lots of butter) and crunchy speculaas. Why anyone would want to turn speculaas into a gooey mush is a complete mystery to me.

  • Lien
    October 12, 2010 11:39am

    Kees, no, you have it wrong. Don’t let jealousy of the success of this product get in the way of the facts. There’s a difference between speculoos and speculaas. Speculaas is the official Dutch word for it and a Dutch invention. So far, I agree. However, back in the old days, the Dutch bakers could easily get a hold on the spices needed to make those cookies thanks to the international Dutch fleet. Belgium didn’t have a fleet like that so they did not have access to those spices, forcing the Belgian bakers to get creative (by adding stuff they did have: cinnamon for instance). The result is that the Belgian variety is a bit more refinded and to make the difference and to make that difference clear in the word, they adopted the French word for it: “speculoos” whereas the Dutch variety is speculaas.

    So, they didn’t get the name wrong because it’s a slightly different product, hence the “speculoos” and “speculaas”

  • Lien
    October 12, 2010 11:40am

    I mean “refined”, not refinded

  • Jeanette
    October 14, 2010 7:21pm

    Just in case anyone is interested, Leonidas (Belgian chocolate company) sells this spread in some of their stores in North America – both the crunchy and the smooth versions.

  • Bryan
    October 25, 2010 7:53pm

    David, hello!
    i’ve been thinking about this spread for months and finally modified a gianduja spread recipe with almonds and caramelized white chocolate as the base to make this myself.
    the spices are delicious with the white choc, very autumnal.

    thanks for the inspiration!

  • Sunny
    December 2, 2010 6:52pm

    okay, so it took 6 months to work up the nerve to try it again after my really bad experience. This time I bought Lotus brand.

    OMGWTFBBQ — what a difference.

    The jar is almost empty after an embarrassingly small number of days, and what have I eaten it on? Tartines, where it gets all gooey and runny from the heat of the toast.

    And a spoon.

    But mostly just the spoon.

  • Joel Stewart
    January 10, 2011 5:15pm

    I ate this in Belgium (the brand with the oo). I thought it was horrid! Like gritty, sickly-sweet cement. Yech…

  • Laurie
    January 31, 2011 6:15pm

    After my umpteenth trip to Paris, I finally remembered to track down Speculoos at Monoprix. Oh. My. God. I brought back 6 jars (and I wish I had videotaped my 5 year old daughter’s expression when she tasted her first spoonful!) I was wondering if you have a recipe or two using this glorious stuff? Thanks.