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Speculoos biscuits added to Brussels cultural heritage list

Pastry chef Serge Goossens prepares a 'speculoos', spiced shortcrust biscuit, Friday 04 December 2020. The Brussels' government recognizes 'speculoos' as Brussels' heritage. (BELGA PHOTO NILS QUINTELIER)
10:37 07/12/2020

The Brussels region has added speculoos and the artisanal know-how of how to make the traditional biscuit to the Brussels cultural heritage list, Pascal Smet, the Secretary of State in charge of Heritage, announced Friday during a visit to the Goossens pastry shop in the Brussels commune of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.

The announcement came two days before the arrival of Saint-Nicholas and the annual distribution of delicacies - including the famous caramelised biscuit - to children. Speculoos cookies – composed of brown sugar, flour, butter, and a mixture of spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, etc.) – have been traditionally handed out at this time of the year since the 18th century.

"As with fritkots (chip shops) and the cultivation of endive, the region now adds speculoos to the heritage inventory to protect and value it for eternity," said Pascal Smet. The popular biscuit joins the list, which also includes the Ommegang procession, the Toone puppet theatre, the Saint Verhaegen student celebration and beer culture.

"Almost all craftsmen still prepare speculoos in the traditional way every December: with good butter and wooden moulds,” said Géry Brusselmans, coordinator of the non-profit organisation "Tartine et Boterham" which represents some 60 bakeries and artisan patisseries in the Capital Region. About 100 people are directly involved in the manufacture and sale of speculoos in Brussels.

However, the announcement did not fill everyone with festive cheer. An RTBF journalist attending the announcement at the Goossens bakery took the secretary of state in charge of heritage to task for organising the event at a time of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eric Boever challenged Pascal Smet as the press conference ended, accusing the minister of not taking the necessary precautions. A video circulating on social media shows Boever and Smet in an exchange, with the journalist accusing Smet of not being careful and shouting: “It's not safe, excuse me… It's not safe."

Smet is heard to respond: "You're right, you're right. There's no need to get angry," to which Boever responds: "Yes. I'm angry. Because if I don't say it, you don't even notice it yourself. You are a leader and you do not respect the rules you give. No more than four people can come together for Christmas and here there are 15 of us in the same room. So, what message do you give?"

The journalist, who has reported the Covid-19 outbreak in Belgium at first-hand, admitted later that he had been a little sharp with the minister but said that if he found himself in a similar situation, he would do exactly the same thing.

Written by Nick Amies