Love for speculaas culminates in a book
In the shadow of Bruges' belfry, or Halletoren, you will find biscuit shop “Juliette”. Famous at home and abroad, it somewhat dozed off over the years but was kissed back to life in 2009 by Brenda Keirsebilck. She turned the spotlight in the biscuit shop entirely on speculaas, caramelized biscuits. And now there is her book: My Love for Speculaas.
As a child, Brenda Keirsebilck wanted to be a baker, but she shied away from the hard physical work and night hours associated with the profession. She eventually found a job in advertising, but continued to regularly browse fresh markets, spice stalls and bookstores out of her love for baking. She bought baking books, half of which she did not understand, and eventually decided to get her baking diploma through adult education. During her training Brenda apprenticed with the best British pastry chefs to master the pastry profession in detail. She also travelled through Brittany, where she discovered one extraordinary biscuit after another.
Brenda eventually took over biscuit shop Juliette in Bruges in 2009 and turned it into a huge success. She tinkered with the quality of the range, introduced excellent raw materials and professionalised the shop. New kneaders and modern ovens were installed and packaging was adapted to be able to offer the biscuits as fresh and crispy as possible. Key raw materials such as butter, nuts and sugar were checked for quality. Herbs, spices and candied fruit were now bought from specialised suppliers.
In Juliette, the focus quickly went entirely to speculaas. These caramelised biscuits have a typical crispness, due to the texture and the sugars and spices used. The spices bring the aroma and flavour; the sugars and the baking process define the biscuit. Brenda introduced as many as seven different variations of speculaas, including orange, lemon, coriander, vanilla, ginger and coffee. Soon more than half of Juliette's range consisted of speculaas. Brenda comments: “I still see many biscuit bakers starting from one basic recipe of piping dough, which is more or less the same shape. A bit boring, to be honest! Chocolatiers also give each praline a different shape, don't they? Profit margins for biscuits are good and you can work without an ounce of waste. In fact, biscuit dough can be kept in stock in the fridge or freezer and the biscuits can be kept for weeks, if properly packaged.”
Juliette's growing success also had a downside. The increasing number of customers in the shop and growing demand from resellers meant that Brenda was running up against the limits of her capacity in her little shop on Wollestraat. In 2015, she sold Juliette to La Confiance. To preserve her memories of Juliette and in particular her love for speculaas, she has now written the book “My Love for Speculaas”. It’s a collection of basic recipes and desserts, all based on Brenda's favourite biscuit. We are happy to share a basic recipe here as a preview.