I was in Haarlem for a photoshoot yesterday as part of an assignment for a Canadian magazine. We've been to Haarlem in the past many, many times. In fact, it was more or less our Saturday hang-out for quite a while. I really enjoyed going back to the city yesterday, even though it was absolutely freezing outside! We spent a good three hours photographing some of the best sites (and there are a lot!), so at a certain point, both of us could no longer feel our feet! But that was definitely the only thing to complain about.
Haarlem has a charm, a certain friendliness and warmth which really makes it a wonderful place to visit. Personally, I will always associate Haarlem with two things: our family trips and the excursions we took there when I was studying Dutch Culture and Art at Leiden University. I still remember walking through the city and listening to the stories told by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Marion Boers. She spoke about the art and history of the city with such passion and told us many a charming story about the hofjes (hidden almshouses) scattered all throughout the city. We took many excursions around the Netherlands back then, but Haarlem was one of my favorite places to enjoy both academically and touristically.
Even though my heart is French, I felt a great sense of pride and happiness when I was walking through the streets of Haarlem yesterday. How lucky am I to live in such a fabulous European country as the Netherlands! The beautiful Renaissance architecture of some of Haarlem's buildings and the city's old-world charm, reminded me once again why I decided to pursue an education completely devoted to the Dutch language and culture. And because I needed to celebrate that, and share my enthusiasm with you, I decided to bake a treat that is very Dutch and very typical for this time of year -- gevulde speculaas. These thick, soft Dutch spice bars are filled with sweetened almond paste and topped with a scattering of almond slivers. They make the house smell absolutely divine and they are child's play to make.
Makes 16 spice bars
For the cookie layer:
300g all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
175g soft butter
2 tbsps Dutch koekkruiden (pumpkin pie spices)
75g raw cane sugar
80g dark brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsps full-fat milk
For the filling:
300g amandelspijs (almond paste) cut in large cubes
1 tbsps sweet liqueur of choice, I used butterscotch but amaretto would be fab too
one whisked egg
a scattering of almond slivers
To brush over the dough:
one whisked egg
Put all of the ingredients for the cookie layer in the food processor and pulse until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the processor and shape it into two fat disks. Wrap them in cling film and refrigerate them for at least three hours. Clean out your processor bowl and pulse the almond paste cubes, the egg and the liqueur until it becomes soft and creamy. Wrap the paste and also refrigerate for at least three hours.
Take the cookie dough and the paste out of the fridge half an hour before you want to bake the bars. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a square 20x20 cm baking pan with baking paper. Roll out half of the dough and fit it into the baking pan. Spread the filling over the dough, roll out the second disk of dough, place it over the filling and tuck it around the edges. Brush the top of the dough with the whisked egg, gently carve a checkered pattern on the dough, making sure not to carve all the way through the first layer. Scatter with the almond slivers and pop in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Check ten minutes before the end of the cooking time and cover the speculaas with foil if it is getting too brown. Allow to cool briefly, finish cutting into squares and serve!