Antwerp, an absolute must-visit if you ever find yourself in Belgium. There’s plenty on offer, there’s a gorgeous Cathedral, a medieval fortress ‘t Steen, which you can find along the river, plenty of museums (Reubens, MAS, ..), a street dedicated to antiques, a stunning central station, a zoo, an impressive opera hall and a fabulous shopping street to name a few.
But as with most cities in Belgium it’s also rich in food heritage and traditions. No matter where you go in Belgium you must always try two things: local beers and local food products. Belgium has many well known national dishes (mostly featuring fries) but when it comes to sweets there’s usually not a lot tourists are aware of. In Ghent for example there’s cuberdons (purple cone-shaped candy), in Geel you can try heart shaped cookies, in Geraardsbergen they have ‘Mattentaartjes’.
One of the traditional sweets you can only get in Antwerp are ‘Antwerp hands’, a butter cookie with a secret recipe, shaped into hands. Why hands? Well it’s part of the history of the city’s folklore when it comes to explaining the name of the city. According to folklore, the city got its name from a legend about a giant called Antigoon who lived near the Schelde river. He exacted a toll from passing boatmen, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river. At one point a young hero named Silvius Brabo refused to pay and ended up killing the giant and cutting of his hand, throwing it into the river afterwards. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch “hand werpen” (throwing hand), similar to Old English “hand” and “wearpan” (to throw), which has evolved to today’s “warp”.
In honour of the mythical Brabo a statue was resurrected on the Grote Markt, right in front of Antwerp city hall. But with that legend also came ‘Antwerp hand cookies’, which exists in two forms: as a buttery cookie and as chocolate. The buttery cookie exists since 1934 and is often also sprinkled with almond flakes. To keep the tradition and legend in honour, the correct recipe for this cookie is a secret, only known to those who are a member of the Syndical union of bakers, confectionary and ice makers. In 1971 the chocolate version was created, which originally didn’t have a filling at all. In 1982 they asked the chocolate masters of Antwerp to create a new chocolate hand with filling. The winner was a delicious filling of marzipan with a hint of Elixir d’Anver, closely followed by a creamy hazelnut praline filling. Both of those fillings are still sold today along with the traditional buttery cookies.
In honour of this great Antwerp tradition I decided to make an Irish version of it, made with the best Kerrygold Irish butter and with a little extra: chocolate Guinness sauce. Instead of shaping the cookies into hands I shaped them into clovers as well. For the cookie base I looked into my grandfathers old baking notes (he was a baker) and based it on one of his butter cookie recipes. They are very easy to make, the hardest part is waiting for them to be done! These cookies are really great to share with family and friends over the holidays, they are the perfect cookies to dunk into your tea while sharing stories and laughs with your nearest and dearest.
I ended up using Kerrygold twice in this recipe, in both the cookies and the sauce and I am so pleased with the result! I’ve always been a big fan of Kerrygold, even when I lived in Belgium but since I got to know more about the background and the values they hold in high regard I am even more of a fan! When it comes to tradition, heritage and culture Ireland has always been my number one country in the world, and it’s part of the reason why I moved here. There’s plenty of folkore to be told here, and plenty of traditions to uphold! Same goes for Kerrygold itself and the farms they work with as they have been passed down from generation to generation, in the same way I was handed my grandfather’s baking notebook. Innovation is of course also part of Kerrygold, but no matter what changes are made, they always go hand in hand with tradition.
Makes: depends on the size of your cookie cutter, I had about 50 cookies
- 200g caster sugar
- 400g Kerrygold butter
- 350g all purpose flour
- 10g vanilla sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 200g dark chocolate
- 150ml Guinness
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
To make the sauce melt 150g of butter and chocolate at low heat and add the Guinness. Mix it well and remove from the heat once it’s a silky smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add more Guinness and/or butter. Don’t worry if the sauce appears to be too thin, if you let it stand and cool down for a while it’ll become thicker. If you find that it’s too runny after 15-30 minutes, add a few extra bits of chocolate, melt them and let it cool down again.
Start by mixing eggs, vanilla sugar and sugar together, then add 250g of butter and mix for a couple of minutes. My personal favourite mixer is this Kitchenaid, it works so well for all kinds of doughs! Gradually add the flour, while keeping your mixer on at all times. Make sure everything is well mixed together before rolling out the dough.
Dust your workspace with flour, this will help prevent it from sticking to the surface. Keep the flour near you at all times cause you’ll want to re-dust frequently. Take a big chunk of the dough and shape it into a ball. Place it on the surface and press down with your hands. Then dust the top of the dough and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a sheet of half a centimeter max, don’t make it too thin as the cookies will burn but don’t make it thicker than half a centimeter either or they might not bake properly either. Keep in mind to frequently dust a bit of flour at the top of the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin.
Cut out the shapes with your cookie cutter and place it on a baking tray with parchment paper. Take the leftovers and scrape some more fresh dough out of your mixer and start again (remember to put some more flour on your workspace before adding a new ball of dough. Continue until all your dough is used up.
Pop the cookies in a preheated oven an 180°C for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn of course.
Once the cookies are done, let them cool down completely before adding the chocolate sauce.
Take a spoon and drizzle the sauce on top of the cookies, or dip the cookies into the sauce completely if you want them completely covered in a chocolate sauce layer. Let the sauce dry up, which can take quite a while so don’t start stacking them up straight away, wait until the sauce has become firm again. Enjoy!