Carbonnade Flamande aux Spéculoos (Flemish Beef Stew with Speculoos)

3/4 cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon butter
1 3/4 lb cubed sirloin
1-pint dark beer (preferably Belgian)
1 small slice country white bread spread with strong mustard (like Dijon or Ghent)
2 spéculoos cookies**
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper
(beef stock if needed)

to serve:
fries or boiled carrots and potatoes
extra cookies for garnish (optional)


In a medium, Dutch or French oven saute the onions and meat in butter until the meat is browned. Add the cookies, bay leaf, spices, sugar and slice of bread.

Pour in the beer. The meat should be covered, if not, add some beef stock to make up the difference. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered 45 minutes or until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fries, or boiled carrots and potatoes. Garnish with an extra cookie.

*about 2 onion’s worth
**Two Lotus brand cookies or other brand speculoos/speculaas cookies or homemade.

My thoughts:

When we were in Lille, France a couple of years ago we, of course, tried all of the local dishes. Since Lille is very close to Belgium, a lot of the food is very similar. One dish was on nearly every menu, Carbonade flamande, which is a thick beef stew that is traditionally made with dark beer and a few slices of pain d’épices, a spiced loaf cake often referred to in at least the US as French “gingerbread”. In looking at menus in Lille, however, I saw a variation made with not cake but cookies! Spéculoos (speculaas) cookies to be exact. When we were in Brussels nearly 10 years ago the cookies were everywhere (as were the molds to make them at home) and we brought back some speculoos spread which over five years later became very popular here as “cookie butter”. If you are not familiar, it is a spice cookie somewhat similar to a gingersnap. I made a homemade version of the cookie after our trip but they can be found in stores. In the US, Lotus markets them as Biscoff cookies and Aldi sells various flavors of speculoos during the winter. You’ll want the classic speculoos for this recipe, not a butter or almond version.

The idea of putting cookies in stew didn’t seem odd to me at all because Baltimore is already home to Sour Beef and Dumplings which uses gingersnaps to make the gravy. Plus, the cookies are relatively easy to find here whereas I’d have to make pain d’épices myself to make the stew (which I plan to do but not today!).

To make this dish even quicker, I gave myself a head start and caramelized the onions in my slow cooker and heated them up vs starting with raw onions. That cut down the cooking time to well under an hour (and there was virtually zero hands-on time) so I was able to make this on a random Thursday evening vs waiting for the weekend.

Making a stew with a slice of mustard-coated bread and some cookies seems odd but it totally works! The cookie and bread completely disintegrate and magically create the thick sauce you see above.

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