The New Nutella

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My friends once told me that if I were to be any country in the world, I would be Belgium. I personally saw myself as more of a Netherlands, but after all of them unanimously agreed I was Belgium, I began to see their point.

Belgium just gets me. It’s a tiny country, I’m 5’1″. It has delicious chocolate. I love delicious chocolate. Belgians also make this liège waffle, which is perfect and delicious and chewy with crunchy pearls of sugar. And Belgium created Nutella, which I love dearly.

Belgium also has a beautiful and almost impenetrable forest, the Ardennes. (Of course, the Germans used it in both world wars to successfully launch attacks on France. Clearly, Europe learned its lessons.) Belgium also swore neutrality in both world wars, which I’ve always admired. World War I began for such ridiculous reasons, and World War II was, in my eyes, simply a continuation.

And Belgium is torn between two languages and two cultures, that of the Flemish and the Walloons. As a Chinese-American, I can understand the difficulties of straddling two cultures. Sometimes there is no compromise between the two, and I’m left in some sort of limbo. For example, paying the check is a fight for honor in Chinese culture, whereas in America, I feel like there’s always one person trying to avoid paying his full share. I end up embarrassed and upset either way.

Sometimes, you can’t win. But then sometimes, something comes along so winning and wonderful that all the bad just melts away. Once again, I owe it to Belgium. Thank you, oh great Belgian people, for discovering that speculoos could be made into a delicious, slightly spiced, crunchy yet creamy spread. But also, curse you, oh terrible Belgian people, for creating a substance that I literally cannot stop eating. It tastes good on bread, it tastes good just licked off a spoon, hell, it even makes oatmeal taste good.

Belgium, you’re the foodie of Europe and I love you for it. Thank you for creating so many delicious sweets and spreads, and despite all your political complications, I still think you’re a pretty cool place.

Then again, I would probably say anything for a lifetime supply of speculoos. You think I’m joking? As the Chinese would say, 我不是开玩笑。

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Speculoos Cookie Butter Bars (adapted from Butter Me Up, Brooklyn) – makes 16 squares

Sprinkle:

1 tbsp sugar
1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon

Cookie bars:

1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp (plus some!) vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 heaping cup speculoos cookie butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter an 8x8in pan then line with two sheets of overlapping parchment. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the sprinkle. Set both aside. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together.

In another medium bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugars until combined. Add vanilla and both eggs, beating in one at a time. Mix until well-incorporated. Add the cookie butter and stir until smooth and fully combined. Fold the flour mixture into the cookie butter mixture until just combined. Spread into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of the bars and gently tap the pan back and forth so that the sprinkle is evenly spread across the top of the cookies. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack until fully cooled.

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