Haarlemmer Halletjes

This week's cookie falls knee-deep into the category of "koffiekoekjes": thin, crisp, spiced cookies that don't look all that special, but that make a cup of coffee or tea a memorable occasion: they dunk well, taste delicious, and make you reach for just one more. Sometimes they don't even get a name, they're just called "koffiekoekjes" or "theekoekjes", but today's cookie does have a name: Haarlemmer Halletjes. 

An advertisement in the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant from January 3rd, 1711, states that "Eymert van der Schee, who lives in Haarlem in the Korte Veerstraet in the house called "Het Halletje"*, where the Halletjes Biscuits were first baked, and from where they have received their name, announces that these Halletjes Biscuits are nowhere else as good as those obtained from him. They are soo delicate and durable lasting, good for 5, 6 and more years, without the slightest change; whereby they, after all, could be sent to all distant lands.  Those who want to purchase these Halletjes Biscuits can do so at the aforementioned house.”

It is fair to say that Eymert was no fool: by placing an advertisement claiming that his cookies were the real deal, all the other bakers in town were immediately labeled as copy-cats. However, it should be said that Van Der Schee was probably not the original inventor of the recipe, as one Claas Jacobs baked from that same house 150 years earlier cookies under the same name. 

Nevertheless, the Haarlemmer Halletjes became famous, were indeed shipped all over the world, and are still, to this day, a must-have treat when visiting the beautiful city of Haarlem. 

Fortunately, you can also bake these at home! The following recipe is good for about 30 to 40 cookies. They will not last as long as "5, 6 and more years, without the slightest change" per Van Der Schee's statement, mainly because everybody will be able to smell them a mile away and will be wanting to know what you're up to. Just do as I do: hand out 30, and keep 10 behind. Baker's treat ;-) 

Haarlemmer Halletjes

1 1/2 cup (185 grams) all-purpose flour

4 1/2 tablespoons (65 grams) butter, cold

3/4 cup (115 grams) brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup (60 ml) water

In a bowl, add the flour. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and mix in the flour with the brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves, and the baking powder. By hand, rub the mix together until it resembles wet sand, then add the water and knead into a pliable dough, for about three minutes. The dough should come loose from the bowl and your hands. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and rest in the fridge for 1 hour. 

Remove from the fridge. Let the dough sit out for about ten minutes, then break off a piece and roll it between two sheets of plastic (I usually cut up a large 2 gallon ziploc bag for this), or dust the counter lightly with a bit of flour and roll the dough out, to about 1/8 of an inch (3 mm). Use a cookie cutter about 2 to 3 inches in diameter (6 - 8cm) (or square, it doesn't really matter, pick a shape you like!), and cut out the cookies. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and place the cookies on the sheet. Heat the oven to 375F/190C and bake the cookies, about 12- 14 minutes, on the middle level in the oven. 

Cool on a rack, and they will crisp up as they cool. Do plenty of tasting unless you are home alone because they will be gone before you know it! 

Sources: Bakkers in Bedrijf, Delpher

*In Haarlem, houses were often named, like The Orange Flowerpot, the Scissors, The Three Sugar Loaves, or Het Halletje, as we saw here, so the people who lived there could say " I am Jan Janszoon from The Orange Flowerpot". I bet that, in a city with hundreds of Jan Janszoons, it would be a welcome way to determine who was who! The houses often showed their name through colorful placards hanging from the facade. It must have been quite a sight! 

Riefkook (Reibekuche)

When I was young, like many other Dutch families we used to stay on a camping in northern Limburg during the summers. It was a kid's dream, and we still talk about those times when I meet up with other campers of those days. We had a big swimming pool, a large play area with lots of equipment to climb on, in, or fall out of, miniature golf, and plenty of trees to get lost among. But the best thing about going to the swimming pool was not the swimming or the pool itself, it was the small fry shack right outside the fence. 

To this day, when I catch a whiff of french fries, it reminds me of that small frietkraam. Actually, what I remember is just a sliding window, with a hand sticking out, handing a cone of french fries to whoever was next in line. I couldn't tell you who worked there, what it looked like on the inside, or even what the color on the outside was. But I have one very distinct memory, one that hasn't left me since then. One day, I am on my way back from swimming. I am about 8 years old. I have enough change with me to get a cone of fries, and I am looking forward to getting my jaws around those hot, golden fries. Super excited I stand in line, waiting my turn to order and when I reach the window, I said "eine patat mét, astebleef" (one portion of fries with mayo, please), and hand over the contents of my sweaty little fist. 

"Det is neet genóg", says a voice. I freeze. What? Not enough? I must have lost some of the coins on the way! He must have had pity on me because he says "wach effe" and hands me a paper cone with something hot inside. I step aside and look. In the paper cone is a golden yellow disk, flat but big and round. A riefkook! And my disappointment turns into delight: one bite of that crispy, salty, shredded potato patty was like biting into a fistful of french fries at once: delicious!!! 

So strong are food memories that, forty-some years later, I still remember biting into that riefkook. It's an insignificant memory but still, it's there. Now, I suspect that if you did not grow up in Limburg, or on the border with Germany, you may not be familiar with riefkook. It's called reibekuchen in German, and they are fried potato patties, made from shredded potato, egg, flour, and onion. In Limburg, you can find these all over the frietkramen, the french fries places. They're not often served with anything, like mayo or mustard, but I can tell you that they're delicious with a dab of applesauce! Riefkook are usually eaten as a snack, but there is no reason why they could not replace your hashbrowns at breakfast time, or be a potato variation for dinner. Go for it!


1.5 lbs (750 grams) potatoes
1 medium-sized onion
2 eggs
1/4 cup (30 grams) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and shred them on the side of the box grater with the large holes. Put the grated potato in a colander, and give them a quick rinse. Squeeze out the water and set aside to drain. Mince the onion. Get a large frying pan and add enough oil to cover the bottom. 

Squeeze the potatoes again and get rid of the liquid. Mix the potatoes with the shredded onion, the eggs, the flour and the salt and pepper. Mix well. Prepare a platter with a few paper towels on the side, and get two spatulas, and an ice cream scoop or two spoons. 

When the oil is hot, take a scoop of the potato mix and put it in the pan. Flatten it with a spatula and tuck in the edges so that it forms a round circle. Repeat until the pan is full, but with enough space around each riefkook, like the picture above. Fry for about three to four minutes on medium-high, then use two spatulas to flip it over. The bottom should be golden brown. Fry the other side for two more minutes, or until golden, Rest on the paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Keep warm until served. 

Makes 12 - 14 medium sized riefkook.

Laot ut och smaeke!