Dutch-Canadian food: speculaas Nanaimo bars!


For Sinterklaas this year some of my coworkers challenged everyone to bring a treat containing speculaas – the Dutch version of gingerbread spices. So what’s an expat Canuck to make? Obviously: Speculaas Nanaimo Bars!


As a Canadian, Bringing Food From My Country presents a challenge because, well, Canadian Food usually ends up looking Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, etc. But the Nanaimo Bar is truly Canadian. They were originally concocted by somebody in the town of Nanaimo during the phase after WWII when people went from cooking their food to engineering it. Nanaimo Bars don’t require baking and so they are perfectly suited to the oven-less Dutch kitchen: my Dutch colleagues at my old job probably still think that Canadians eat Nanaimo Bars on their birthdays.

The traditional recipe consists of a layer of Graham crackers, grated coconut and chopped nuts (all welded together with egg, cocoa and butter), a second layer of vanilla butter-cream icing; and a third layer of dark chocolate. However, somebody else has modified the recipe to use a cinnamon filling and a white-chocolate topping. With these recipes as starting points, I did some experimentation and came up with the following:

Speculaas Nanaimo Bars

bottom layer
450 g cheap speculaas biscuits
1/2 cup (125 mL) fine-chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 mL) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) cloves
1 teaspoon (5 mL) speculaas liquer
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter
1 large egg

middle layer
2 cups (230 grams) powdered icing sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp (10 mL) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons speculaas liquer
1/2 tsp cinnamon

top layer
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
4 ounces (110 grams) white chocolate (about 1.5 Verkade packages, which means you can eat half of the second bar yourself)

11×7 inch (27×18 cm) baking pan or plastic container

If you don’t have speculaas liqueur, you can probably leave it out or use Goldschlager or Jägermeister minus the gold bits. Graham crackers or digestive biscuits will also work in place of speculaas biscuits.

Bottom Layer: Crush the speculaas biscuits finely and chop the pecans. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 – 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the speculaas liqueur, speculaas biscuit crumbs and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Middle Layer: Beat the butter until smooth and creamy (I always use a fork and my arm muscles, but a mixer works too). Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

Top Layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a double boiler with the butter. Spread the melted mixture evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or just until the chocolate has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.


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