Speculoos is a type of spiced shortbread that is typically thin, very crunchy and slightly browned. This is the type of Belgian speculoos that is known worldwide. However, there’s one village in Flanders that has always made this cookie differently, resulting in a darker, quite thick and softer result. This variety is not called "speculoos", but "homp" or "oemp" in the local dialect, and is much less known among the regional and national population. Because the cookie is thicker, it also tastes less intense and has a less spicy note to it. The crunchiness of the crust is combined with a soft and tender filling.
To make the dough of the oemp, butter is mixed with dark brown sugar, cinnamon and spices. Flour is added, followed by eggs and milk. The dough is left to rest for 24 hours in a cool place to give the spices the time to permeate the dough and add extra flavor. After this resting period, the dough is shaped in smaller pieces. When the cookies come out of the oven, they should be thick (around 2 cm) and soft. Some use cinnamon as the only spice, but others may also add nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and/or pepper. Even a unique recipe would not result in the same speculoos, as also the type of oven, humidity and temperature of the air influence the end result.
The Hasseltse speculoos is traditionally both eaten for breakfast, sipped in coffee, and in the late afternoon with a glass of typical jenever from Hasselt. In fact, it can be ascertained that this sweet’s invention is connected to jenever distilleries. At least as early as the beginning of the 17th century, these distilleries in Hasselt were where the ancestor of today’s gin was brewed. One of the important waste products was partly burned sugar. This sugar, called "potsuiker" or "bruine suiker" (brown sugar) was mixed with some flour and fat, resulting in the first real Hasseltse speculoos. This type of sugar is still the one used today in the original recipe, although it’s no longer a waste product from the distilleries.
The Hasseltse speculoos, oemp or homp, is exclusively produced in the city of Hasselt, the capital of the province of Limburg. It’s located in the east of Belgium, in the Flemish region. Today, only a few artisanal bakers still produce this traditional cookie.