Friday, December 31, 2010

Appelbeignets

Sometimes, things just don´t go as planned. I know, I know....one of those ¨"such is life" things... But I had really planned on making Sugary Snowballs tonight. Snowballs are made of a light choux dough, fried in oil, then filled with whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar. Yep, a real killer, but what a great way to wrap up the old year with something that has at least two out of the five funky food groups (i.e. fat and sugar)!

I started late and a little hurried, couldn´t get the right consistency and the snowballs turned out to be little golfballs instead. Very dark brown with a raw center, yuk!!! So after another batch and still getting the same results, I decided that it was too late for snowballs and too late for oliebollen (the yeast dough has to sit and rise for a while). Hurray for never-fail-favorites, because I made appelbeignets instead and they were fabulous, as always. They´re apple slices, dipped in batter, then fried in oil. Technically not a donut at all, but the cored apple slices do give it a donut-esque appearance.

It´s hard to mess up an appelbeignet. Also known as appelflappen, these are a favorite treat. The apple brings some lightness, albeit subtle, to the oily batter and adds a pleasant sweetness. Any apple will work except for the Granny Smith: too tangy, too juicey and it doesn't hold up well. I used Golden Delicous for this recipe.

Appelbeignets
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ground
2 apples, peeled and cored
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Slice the apples in rings, about 1/4 inch thick. Stir the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the apple slices. Set aside. Mix the flour, milk, egg, baking powder and salt together for a batter. Use a little bit more milk if the batter is too thick. Put the slices in the batter and coat them on both sides, then drop each slice of apple carefully into the hot oil. Turn over when they're golden brown on one side and fry the other side, remove when both sides are done. Drain on a paper towel to capture the excess oil and transfer to a new plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat while warm.

This batter is a very neutral one and can be used for a variety of fruits. Try bananas (cut a small banana in half lengthwise and then each part in half), pineapple rings (drain on a paper towel before adding to the batter) or add some cinnamon or flavoring to the batter itself. There is no sugar in the batter to avoid excessive and premature browning.







I wish you all a very happy New Year, with lots of love, good food and dear friends!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Koolsoep

Tired of cooking large meals? Can´t fathom having to do another pig-out on New Year´s Eve? No worries! This quick, savory, easy cabbage soup will allow you to put your feet up for a bit, have a hearty bite to eat and save some space for all that lovely food that will be coming your way until the end of the year.

Green cabbage, or savooiekool (savoy cabbage) is the Dutch green cabbage of choice. Its flavor is pleasantly cabbag-ey, but not overly heavy, and the leaves maintain a pleasant crunch after a quick boil. This brassica pairs nicely with pork and bacon and does best in a broth or a stamppot.

Save some French bread or a thicker loaf to toast and add to this soup. Select a nice, flavorful cheese to melt on the toasted bread. With this addition, the soup can be served as a meal.

Koolsoep
1 small savoy cabbage, washed and cut in narrow strips
1 cup of diced salty pork (or 4 strips of bacon, in strips)
1 medium onion, sliced
6 cups of vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon of caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
Splash of white wine (optional)
4 slices of bread
1 cup of grated cheese

Fry the salty pork or bacon crispy in a Dutch oven. Add the onion slices and stir until they are golden, about five minutes. Add the cabbage and stir until it´s slightly wilted, then add the broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a good twenty minutes. Add the splash of white wine if you want. Taste and adjust salt.

Put the cheese on the slices of bread and quickly melt the cheese under a broiler. Place a piece of bread in a deep plate or soup mug, pour the soup over it and enjoy!




Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kerstkransjes

Kerstkransjes, or cookie Christmas wreaths, are a typical sight in Dutch Christmas trees. Sprinkled with sugar, decorated with slivered almonds, round, scalloped, chocolate,...they come in a variety of shapes and flavors, but always with a little hole in the middle so you can tie it to a branch of the tree.

Most often, they are part of the initial decorations in the tree as soon as it´s set up, but will be eaten slowly and sneakily by the kids, the husband or the family dog, only to feign utter dismay when the whole tree is empty and all you find is empty ribbons. Smart moms usually have several packages at hand to replace the empty spots in the tree, but ever smarter moms (or dads, or anybody else for that matter) bake their own!

The recipe is as simple as can be, and would be a fun project to do with kids or friends on these cold, blistery days. I´m posting a simple, straightforward recipe but you may consider making it your own. Sprinkle with colored sugar, add some chocolate or cinnamon to the recipe, or you might even dip the cookies in chocolate before hanging them in the tree. Just make sure you hang the chocolate ones higher up in the tree so Fido can´t get a nibble, chocolate is presumably bad for animals....

Kerstkransjes
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of butter, cold and diced
1-2 teaspoon of baking powder
1-3 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of milk

Mix the flour with the salt, the sugar and the baking powder. Carefully knead in the cold butter, then add in the vanilla, lemon zest. If the mixture is too dry, add in a tablespoon of cold milk at a time. Knead everything into a pliable dough, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for an hour, to let the flavors blend.

Roll the dough out on a lightly dusted counter. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Use a drinking glass, or a cookie cutter of any shape, to cut out the cookies. Use the end of an apple corer or a large straw to poke a hole in the middle of the dough. When all cookies are cut and cored, place them on the parchment paper, brush them with egg and sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, sliced almonds or colored sugar on top. Bake on the middle rack until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack. Cut ribbons and thread through the hole, then put a knot in it and decorate your tree as you see fit.



I wish you all a wonderful, magical Christmas time!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Foeksandijvie

I look for it right around this time of year: the endive. Not the Belgian one, witlof, although that one has plenty of flavorful applications, but the regular, green curly endive, or chicory. Nothing says "Dutch" like a good old-fashioned stamppot, a pan full of mashed potatoes and a vegetable, and this time of year it's the perfect weather for it, and andijvie, endive, is just about the most perfect vegetable. Oh, I do love kale, boerenkool, stamppot. And zuurkool, and hutspot. But the andijvie stamppot has a special place in my heart. Maybe it's the bacon. Or the fact that the mashed potatoes are warm and creamy, soft and pillowy, and the endive is raw and has a crunch to it. It creates this perfect mouthfool of food: soft, warm, crunchy, salty... Definitely one of my favorite, favorite foods!

Most stamppotten consist only of potatoes and veg, and hardly contain any butter or milk. The potatoes are usually creamy enough to make up for the lack of dairy, and the vegetables release enough juices to make the dish moist but not rich. Save some of the water that you pour off the potatoes to add back when you mash them, or heat up a little bit of milk to add to the spuds: it does make it creamier. But because of the lack of butter, this may be a good dish if you want to watch your weight a little bit, eat healthy and still feel like you have a dish full of comfort food!

"Foeksandijvie" is a stamppot made with curly endive, a vegetable easy to grow and readily accessible at your local grocery store. The lettuce-type greens are washed and cut into strips, and mixed ("foeksen" in the dialect of the province of Overijssel where this dish is traditionally from) in with the potatoes after they have been mashed. The combination of warm, gooey potatoes with the crispy, slightly tart vegetables is a winner and will be a new favorite at your family's table.

The dish can be served with or without the added " karnemelksaus", a gravy made with buttermilk and salt pork. If you go without the sauce, fry the salt pork, bacon or pancetta in small strips or dice, and fold them in with the mashed potatoes. You can also leave the meat out altogether and stir in some small dice of aged Gouda or Cheddar, or serve the mashed potatoes with braadworst, fresh sausage, or gehaktballen, Dutch meatballs.


Foeksandijvie met karnemelksaus
6 - 8 large potatoes
1 head of escarole endive
1 teaspoon salt

Peel the potatoes and cut into regular sized chunks. Bring to a boil in a pan of water, barely covering the potatoes, add the salt and lower the heat to medium and boil for about twenty minutes. When the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, pour off the remainder of the water saving about half a cup. Mash and add some potato water, or a little bit of warm milk, if the mashed potatoes are too dry.

Wash the escarole, rinse and cut into half inch strips, leaving out the bottom part of the leaves: the white vein is sometimes too hard and bitter. Mix in with the mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust salt, and add a pinch of pepper or nutmeg if desired.


For the sauce

3 slices of salt pork, diced
1 cup of buttermilk
1/2 tablespoon of flour

Slowly render the fat out of the pork. Remove the meat, stir the flour into the fat and add the buttermilk. Stir until the sauce thickens, then add the pork back in. Serve separately, or pour it over the foeksandijvie on a family-style plate.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Worstenbroodjes

Sometimes a smell will trigger memories or initiate thoughts of a particular season: the air will smell like "fall" or "summer", a plate of steaming mussels may remind you of a holiday at the coast, the aroma of roast turkey will take you back to Thanksgiving.

The smell of worstenbroodjes baking in the oven remind me of Christmas. You can eat these meat-filled rolls all year, but they seem to be favored during the colder months. They are perfect to hold you over from dinner to midnight on New Year's Eve, to give you a little something to eat after First Christmas Day's hefty lunch if you are too full for dinner but still want to eat something....


Worstenbroodjes are typical from Brabant, a southern province in the Netherlands. Both Brabant and Limburg are the more gastronomically exciting provinces in Holland. Brabant is proud of its koffietafel, a lunch or brunch served with a large variety of rolls, breads, toppings, meats, cheeses and jams and copious amounts of coffee, and the Limburgers can boast about their many pies, the so called vlaaien. Brabant is from old also the province that excelled in producing large amounts of pork, hence anything made with pork often received the adjective Brabants, meaning "from Brabant". It did not need necessarily be a traditional product from the region.

In this case, Brabantse worstenbroodjes are indeed traditional from the area. In other parts of the country, the saucijzenbroodje is favored, but worstenbroodjes fit in perfectly with the koffietafel and aren't as rich.

Worstenbroodjes
For the rolls
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of warm milk, plus two tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
1 egg

For the filling
1 lb ground beef (preferably half-om-half i.e. half beef, half pork)
1/2 cup of panko or breadcrumbs
1 egg
4 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley (optional)

For egg-wash
1 egg
2 tablespoons of water

Activate the yeast by stirring it into the warm milk. In the meantime, mix the flour with the salt and the sugar. When the yeast has proofed which takes about five minutes (it's now all bubbly and smells great), add it to the flour and mix it in. Drizzle the melted butter on top, continue to mix and finally add in the egg. Mix briefly until it all comes together, then take it out of the bowl, and knead for about five to ten minutes by hand. Grease the bowl, add the dough, turn it over so it's coated, and cover. Let rise for approximately thirty minutes or until 2/3s larger in size.

In the meantime, mix the ground meat with the spices, the breadcrumbs, the egg and the milk. Cut off 2oz portions and roll into a small ball. Set aside while you do the rest. When they're all divided into 2oz portions, carefully roll each ball out into a sausage shape, about five inches long. Cover.
Carefully punch down the dough. Divide into 2oz pieces and roll each piece into a ball. While you work on the rest, keep each one covered underneath a tea towel or plastic wrap, you don't want them to dry out.

Now, with a rolling pin, roll the dough into an elongated oval, slightly larger than five inches long. Place one sausage on top, fold over the short edges, pull over the long edge and carefully roll the sausage into the dough, pinching the seam.

Place each sausage roll on some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cover and let them rise, at room temperature, for forty minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash and bake for approximately twenty to thirty minutes.


Don't stick with just the traditional salt, pepper, nutmeg combo. Have fun with it and add some paprika, some all-spice, you may even add some small chopped onion or garlic. As with everything, recipes are just a guideline!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stoofpeertjes

Stoofpeertjes, or stewed pears,  are one of those dishes that show up on the table when game such as rabbit, hare or pheasant is being served, or the richer meat dishes such as hazenpeper. Stoofpeertjes can also be served with "draadjesvlees", braised beef, in combination with boiled potatoes, and will take the place of a vegetable.

The first time I ate stewed pears was at a friend's house, I must have been six or seven years old. They served ratatouille and as dessert, stoofpeertjes. Ratatouille sounds much like "rat-something" and the chunks of eggplant were HUGE, something I was not necessarily fond of, but I was raised right so ate without complaining. I felt so rewarded for my good behavior when we had stoofpeertjes for dessert....Once I bit into one of these soft, tender, sweet pears, all eggplant misery was forgotten and I was in food-heaven.

Stoofpeertjes can be served as a side-dish to a beef entrée, or as dessert with some yogurt or hangop. It is easy to make and, if you have any leftover cranberry sauce and a bottom of red wine from Thanksgiving, I'd be sure to give it a try. These pears will be a beautiful addition to your Christmas dinner table.

The stoofpeertjes are pears that improve from stewing and turn red, like the Gieser Wildeman. As they are not available to us here in the US, I've chosen some sturdy Bartletts to do the job.

Stoofpeertjes
4 pears, peeled but with stem
1/2 jar of cranberry sauce/berry jam/fruity red wine
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 lemon peel, no pith
1 cup of apple juice* optional
1/3 cup of sugar

Warm the cranberry sauce, berry jam or fruity red wine in a sauce pan. Add the apple juice if the sauce or jam needs to be thinned. Stir in the sugar, add the cinnamon stick and place the pears in the warm liquid. Bring to a boil, then turn to a slow simmer and cover.

Simmer for about forty minutes, turning the pears over occassionally, but don't simmer them past their point as you want the fruit to remain whole. Remove the pears carefully as the fruit will be soft, then reduce the sauce or thicken with some cornstarch. Pour the sauce over the pears. This dish can be served warm or cold.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taaitaai

Taaitaai is an age-old typical delicacy that's eaten during the Sinterklaas days. Taai (rhymes with "I" and means "tough") may well refer to the chewiness of the sweet dough. It is similar to speculaas, with the added flavor of aniseed, but misses the typical speculaas crunch: instead its dough is taai: tough and chewy.

Saint Nicholas grew out to be the protector of small children: in one story he brought back to life three young boys that had been killed. In another, he prevented three poor sisters from having to go into prostitution by throwing three bags with money into their home, one bag for each girl for her dowry. This may have sparked his status as protector of marriages, or matchmaker, and might have started the tradition of giving a taaitaai doll, a "vrijer", to an unmarried girl.

Taaitaai is usually baked in human shapes: often it's an image of Sinterklaas himself. The smaller versions are eaten as a treat or a cookie with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The larger size taaitaais are called "taaipop", i.e. taai doll. But in older days, as I learned by reading Dutch writer and poet Jan Ter Gouw (1814-1894), "Taaitaai, sweet as syrup, tough as leather and as brown as old sealing wax, was baked in a variety of shapes". Male and female dolls for the young people, shaped as a church for the religous folks, large hogs for grandpas and cat-shaped for grandmas, all richly decorated and sometimes even covered in gold leaf. Young men would gift a decorated taai-taai doll to a girl they were interested in marrying. The doll would be carved in the dough before baking and outfitted with elements and symbols referring to the pursuer's trade. These dolls were called "vrijers" or "lovers". The young man would return the next day: if the "vrijer" had been eaten, the girl accepted the proposal. If not....well, move on to the next one!

Most children that celebrate Sinterklaas are too young to be bothered with vrijers, but as adults it might be a fun tradition to continue.

Prepare the dough preferably a couple of days beforehand: the spices will be able to blend and provide a wonderful flavor. As with so many Dutch recipes, the ingredients are few so top quality is key!

Taai-taai
2 cups of self-rising flour
1/3 cup of honey
2 tablespoons of pancake syrup
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground aniseed
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 egg

Warm the honey and the pancake syrup until they are easily pourable. Add all the spices and the salt to the flour, pour in the honey/syrup mix and knead into a flexible, non-sticky dough. (You may have to add some water, one tablespoon at a time, to achieve this.) Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or, preferably, a day or two.

Lightly dust the counter with flour. Roll out the dough about half an inch high and cut out the shapes. I used gingerbread men. Heat the oven to 350F, place a silicone mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet and transfer your cookies. Brush with beaten egg and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Taaitaai dolls, the Dutch "Chewy Louies"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Roti (Curried chicken with beans and potatoes)

When we talk about Dutch food it would be difficult, and careless, to ignore the colonial influences. Some cuisines, such as the Indonesian one, have had time to slowly integrate into the daily culinary grind, to the point where traditional Dutch families will serve Indonesian dishes (albeit it heavily adjusted to the local palate) regularly at the dinner table and not consider it extravagant or daring. Cuisines from other colonies, such as Suriname and part of the Netherlands Antilles, are not yet as integrated into the six o'clock dinner routine, but can be readily obtained at the many tropical eateries around town and are quickly becoming a favorite. Today's dish is a colonial culinary treasure from Suriname.

The country of Suriname is located on the northern coast of South America. A former colony of the Netherlands, it obtained its independency in 1975. Leading up to its independence, many Surinamese emigrated to Holland instead, thereby introducing a new culinary development. The Surinamese cuisine is an exciting mix of European, Indonesian, Indian and South American influences.

The Dutch brought over workers to plant and harvest the plantations: they were from Indonesia and India, equally former colonies. These workers prepared their own traditional dishes with local ingredients which, in turn, became local specialties. Roti is one of those dishes.

The roti is a flat unsweetened pancake, made from flour, oil and water. Often there is no leavener like eggs, although sometimes baking powder will be used. The roti is heated on a hot plate where the baking powder will puff it up, creating pockets of air and a tender structure. In various countries around the world rotis are served one way or the other: sometimes as a breakfast item, covered with sweetened coconut milk or as dinner with a variety of side items. That's how I'm eating my roti today, with a side of potatoes, chicken and green beans. The traditional roti is filled with yellow lentils, but I'm just making an easy one today. If you want to skip this part, a flour tortilla will do just fine.

Surinamese Roti
For the roti
1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 of warm water
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
extra flour

Mix the flour, the baking powder, salt and pepper in a bowl, and slowly mix in the oil and water. Knead into a flexible dough, adding flour if you need to. Let the dough rest, then cut and roll into balls the size of a small egg. Heat a griddle or cast iron pan. Roll a dough ball into a large, flat pancake and place it on the hot surface: the roti will puff up in various places. Turn it over with a spatula until the other side is done. Place them on a plate and cover with a towel.

For the chicken
1 tablespoon of oil
2 chicken legs and thighs (or two medium chicken breasts cut in large chunks)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 chicken bouillon cube
3 cups of water
2 tablespoons of curry powder*
1 pinch of sugar
3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

In a Dutch oven, heat a little bit of oil and brown the chicken on all sides. Add the garlic and the onion, sauté with the chicken for a couple of minutes. Add the curry, the water and the bouillon cube and stir in the pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for thirty minutes. Add the potatoes (you may have to add a little bit of water if the water doesn't cover the potatoes) and simmer until the potatoes are done. If the sauce doesn't thicken with the potatoes, use a little bit of flour or cornstarch.

For the beans
The beans used in this dish are traditionally long beans, or yard beans. You may be able to find them in the Asian grocery stores. In this case, I used standard green beans, they make a valid substitution.

1 lb of green beans
3 cups of water
1 bouillon cube
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Cut the green beans in two inch pieces. Bring to a boil with the water and the bouillon cube and boil until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken, the potatoes and the beans on a plate and serve the warm roti on the side. Tear a piece of the roti and use it to pick up a piece of potato, chicken and green bean. Wrap it up and eat! This is not a dish to eat with fork and knive, but with your fingers....



* Curry powder is a very personal choice: some people prefer to use a store bought spice mix, others mix their own. For ease of use, and because I appreciate the flavor, I usually go with an instant curry roux from S&B, available in the Asian aisle of your local grocery store.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gevulde Speculaas

Three nights from now, Holland will be celebrating Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas. About a week before December 5th, children all over the country will place one of their shoes, filled with hay, a carrot or a handwritten letter, by whatever heating system the house possesses: a fireplace, gas furnace or central heating system. Why? Because at night, Saint Nicholas is supposedly roaming the roofs on his white horse Amerigo and has his helpers, Black Petes, go down the chimney to retrieve the gifts for the horse or the letter addressed to him. The letter usually contains the customary requests for presents and the assurance that the writer of the epistle had been an obedient, kind and pleasant child all year long. In exchange for Amerigo's goodies and the letter, Black Pete usually leaves a small piece of candy or fruit.


Courtesy of Sint.nl
On December 5th, the family gathers in the living room after dinner, children sing Sinterklaas songs at the chimney and at one particular time of the evening, there is knocking on the door. Knock-knock-knock! Any child that has been a pain in the neck to his parents all year and has a minute bit of a conscience will now be, if not fully in tears, at least in some type of panic. The person knocking on the door is ofcourse Sinterklaas. He is here to deliver presents to the kids that have been good all year. If you're lucky, the old saint is so busy that, upon opening the door, all you find is a big bag of wrapped gifts. But if you have vengative parents or a miffed neighbor, you will find the actual saint standing there with his helpers. At this point, any kid worth his weight will regret all the mischief from the last year: after all, Saint Nicholas has a big book that has every thought, action or word recorded and there will be no point in denying it. Oh boy!

Children that have been naugthy will be put in the, now empty, gift bag and taken to Madrid in Spain, where Sinterklaas lives the rest of the year. What happens to them there is unknown. Many a smart alec will try to trump Sint and say that he'll be glad to go to Spain: the weather is nice year round and he wouldn't have to share a room with his sister.

I honestly don't know why we believed such drivel as children: any kid will at one point in time wonder how the horse gets up on the roof, much less stay there, how Black Pete can climb down the gas furnace, get all your stuff and then make it back up again without leaving any kind of charred evidence, why Sinterklaas bothers to travel all the way from Madrid on a steamboat and doesn't take an airplane like everybody else (and even more, how does he do it, since there is no direct waterway connected to the ocean from there) and why Sinterklaas looks and sounds so much like Uncle Steve. It must be because, eventually, we figured out that the adults amuse themselves so much with the anticipation, the hiding of the presents and the playing of Sinterklaas, that as a child, you don't have the heart to tell 'm that they're insulting your intelligence. You''ll play along as long as you get what you asked for. And you know you will, because it's been weeks since you found the wrapped gifts hidden away in the hall closet and you've undone one corner of each package to see what you were getting. Score!

In the meantime, grandma and granda sit back on the couch, drink a cup of hot chocolate or something stronger, and help themselves to another slice of gevulde speculaas. It's the traditional baked good for these festive days and although it is pretty much available year round, it still seems to trigger that Sinterklaas-feeling around this time of year.

Gevulde Speculaas
For the dough
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons speculaas spices
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Pinch of salt
1 stick and 2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk

For the filling*
1 cup of almonds, whole
1 cup of powdered sugar, packed
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon of almond flavoring

Pour two cups of boiling water over the almonds and let them sit for about fifteen minutes. Rinse the nuts with cold water, and slip off the brown skin. Save twelve half almonds for decorating. Put the almonds in a blender and pulse several times until they have a wet sand consistency, that should take only a few pulses. Place the almond meal in a bowl, stir in the sugar, the egg white and the almond extract. You should have a creamy, spreadable consistency. If not, add in a little bit of the yolk (beat it first) at a time until you do. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix the flour, the speculaas spices, the sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with two knives until the butter is reduced to pebbles and the flour feels like wet sand. Add the milk and the egg yolk and knead the dough until it comes together. Pat into ball, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

Divide the dough in two parts. Grease a 9" pie pan or springform and roll out the first dough. Cover the bottom and the sides of the pan. Spread the almond paste over the dough, roll out the second dough and cover the filling and the edges of the pie form.

Brush with the remaining egg yolk, place the 12 almond halves on the pie and bake at 325F for about 35 minutes until done. Let it cool before taking it out of the spring form, then carefully slice into 12 pieces and serve.