Aug 8, 2015

Speculating on Speculoos: Le Petit Cube (Crumble Pain d'Epice)


What is Speculoos? It's more than a popular cookie with a funny name. It's also a flavor. And an ingredient. And an enigma, because it's a cinnamon-flavored cookie beloved by French people who, in general, hate cinnamon.

It's a crisp wafer of a cookie that appears to be originally Dutch, by the name and the spelling. But don't let that fool you. It's actually originally a pre-Christmas (Feast of St. Nicolas) cookie from the Netherlands, Belgium, western Germany, and northern France. Historically, it might have been made with many other spices, the type generally used in gingersnap cookies and gingerbread cakes, though the ingredient list currently only mentions cinnamon. Even outside of the North, the rest of the French have fully embraced everything Speculoos, at all times of year, and you'll often be given the tell-tale red package along with your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate in a café.

It turns out Speculoos is appealing to the Americans here, too, not just as a delicious snack cookie, but also as a replacement for graham crackers. If you ever need a graham cracker crust in Paris, this is your key ingredient.

Our local ice cream shop, Berthillon, the Frenchest of all ice cream shops, even makes a Speculos flavor. I'm assuming they only spell it with one "O" in order not to violate the copyright protection on the name. Or, they're just not good spellers.

But they are very good ice cream makers, and the Speculos flavor is sublime. We serve it to a visiting American friend who's a tried-and-true Salted Caramel fan (one of their most famous flavors, and not a bad choice), and she declares the Speculos her new favorite.

Speculoos is also made into a spreadable paste, somewhat the color and texture of peanut butter. It's even sold in the peanut butter aisle. But it's got the flavor of a sweet cookie. And then you spread it on a piece of toast. It's genius. An American friend who is moving away from France has seriously been debating how many jars she can fit in her luggage when she goes back. No need, as Trader Joe's has a version of this, called "Cookie Butter" which I've never tried, but I'm told is the same thing.

THE CHEESE: Le Petit Cube (Crumble Pain d'Epice)
Le Petit Cube is an aptly-named small cube of raw goats' milk cheese. It hails from around Thouars, in the Deux-Sèvres department, in the goat-cheese-blessed region of Poitou-Charentes. Everything you need to know is right there in the very long name: Le Petit Cube (Crumble Pain d'Epices). It's a small cube with a layer of crumbled gingerbread.
You can see the dark layer peeking through to the edge of the toad-skin crust.

The goat cheese itself is wet, creamy, oozy, and seems barely able to support its own tiny cube shape at room temperature. That's no problem, because it's so yummy, it doesn't last long on the platter anyway. The crumble layer does not add as much flavor or texture as you'd expect -- or least not as much as I'd expect. I was imagining practically a gingerbread crust with each goat cheese bite, but really it's a subtle hint of sweetness with a background of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey. The texture is similarly only subtly affected by the crumble.

Despite ending up to more of a gimmick than a real game-changer, it's still a lovely little cheese, appealing to everybody at the cheese tasting, from ages 8 to 80. Who isn't tempted by the idea of a little gingerbread? (Sure, maybe lots of you. And for some of you, the goat cheese probably doesn't seem so tempting, either.)

What else but a goat cheese with a layer of gingersnap-like crumbles to talk about a gingersnap-like cookie? I am, frankly, just surprised that the cheese wasn't actually made with Speculoos, but perhaps it's cheaper for the farmers to make their own. I don't know. I'm just speculating.


  1. And the most amazing thing is that, barely 20 years ago (and I am being cautious here, I could hazard 15 years ago), no French person living South of say, Arras or Cambrai had never tasted (nay, never heard of !) a speculoos !!!
    It's all thanks to Lotus aggressive marketing campaign …

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