These cookie bars were made for the blog challenge, Formula 1 Foods, run by Caroline at Caroline Makes. The idea is to cook a dish inspired by the country where each round of the F1 Grand Prix races take place. For some races I have found traditional recipes from the country in question, and for others I have used ingredients particularly associated with that country. The next race takes place in Belgium, which has a reputation for great patisserie similar to that of France, as well as a few traditional pastries of it's own, such as waffles, rice tart, a meringue confection known as a Merveilleux, and a curd pie called a mattentaarte. And then there's the chocolate, of course - the Belgians have a long tradition of producing superb quality chocolates!
Unfortunately, none of the traditional recipes fitted in with the sort of baking I wanted to do, both in terms of time and what would get eaten, so I decided to take inspiration from two Belgian foodstuffs - chocolate and Speculoos biscuits (in the form of Lotus caramelised biscuit spread). The recipe I chose was loosely based on this one from Sally's Baking Addiction, but underwent quite a few changes, both to introduce lots of dark chocolate and to adapt to things I didn't have in the storecupboard.
I was quite perturbed to find out, despite my guesstimate of how much was left in the jar, that I didn't have enough biscuit spread (or cookie butter, as it's known in the USA), but decided to replace it with peanut butter as in the past I'd made a similar traybake using biscuit spread as a straight substitute for peanut butter. Once that decision was made, it seemed a good idea to add some chopped roast peanuts instead of some of the chocolate, to emphasise the peanut part of the recipe. I added a little ground cinnamon to strengthen the flavour of the biscuit spread, used plain wholemeal flour instead of white and two whole eggs instead of 1 egg and an extra yolk. The chocolate that was taken out of the cookie dough was used as a topping.
125g plain wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
75g unsalted butter, melted
200g light muscovado sugar
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
130g biscuit spread
70g smooth peanut butter
100g coarsely chopped plain chocolate
50g unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
Topping - 100g finely chopped plain chocolate
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8") square baking tin with baking parchment.
Mix the salt, cinnamon and raising agents with the flour. Mix the sugar and melted butter in a large bowl, then beat in the eggs, vanilla, biscuit spread and peanut butter. Fold in the flour mix, then the chopped chocolate and nuts. Transfer the mixture to the lined baking tin and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or until a probe comes out with only a few damp crumbs clinging to it. Turn off the oven, sprinkle the chocolate for the topping over the baked dough, as evenly as possible and return to the cooling oven for 5 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and spread the melted chocolate with a spatula.
Cool completely in the baking tin before removing and cutting into bars or squares.
I didn't think this bake was entirely successful. The dough puffed up during cooking, then sank on cooling, leaving a high rim around the edges and making it difficult to spread the chocolate evenly. I checked my previous recipe using Lotus biscuit spread and noticed that it was quite similar in quantities of ingredients but didn't add any raising agents, which would have prevented the dough puffing up during baking, and kept a more level top. A slightly more firmer cookie would have also given a better texture - this was a little fragile. However, the flavour combination of plain chocolate and peanuts with the caramel and spice notes of the biscuit spread was excellent.
The other minor problem, which affected the appearance rather than the flavour, was that I covered the bars before photographing them, and the next day the chocolate topping had funny little circles on it. I suspect this was due to condensation, even though I thought the bars were completely cold before covering them.
Although these cookie bars weren't perfect, I think they made good use of two traditional Belgian foods - and would probably be enjoyed by any chocolate loving Belgian!