Showing posts with label Gevulde Speculaas (Dutch Almond-filled Spice Cake). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gevulde Speculaas (Dutch Almond-filled Spice Cake). Show all posts

Gevulde Speculaas

Soon, the Netherlands 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, the Pieten, 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, helper Piet usually leaves a small piece of candy or fruit.

Courtesy of
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 of course 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 vengeful 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 Piet 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 grandpa 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 (300 grams) self-rising flour (or regular flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder)
2 tablespoons (15 grams) speculaas spices
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
Pinch of salt
1 stick and 2 tablespoons (150 grams) butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg 

For the filling*
1 cup (300 grams) almond paste
1 cup (125 grams) almonds, whole
1 cup (125 grams) powdered sugar, packed
1 egg, large
1 teaspoon almond flavoring (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 egg, separated

If you are making your own paste for this recipe, 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, and stir in the sugar, the egg, the almond extract, the zest, and the egg white of the second egg. If you are using already made almond paste, add in the egg white and stir. You should have a creamy, spreadable consistency. If not, add in a tablespoon of hot water.  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 by hand until it comes together. Split in half, roll each into a ball, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

Grease a 9" (23 cm) round** or 11 x 7 inch (28 x 17.5 cm) rectangular pie pan or springform and roll out the first dough. Cover the bottom and the sides of the pan, about 1.5 inch (approx. 4 cm) high. Spread the creamy almond filling over the dough, roll out the second dough and cover the filling and the edges of the pie form. Don't worry if it looks like the top is sunk down on top of the paste, it will rise with baking.

Brush with the remaining egg yolk, place the 12 almond halves on the pie, brush again, and bake at 325F (165C) for about 35 minutes. The speculaas will have browned nicely and the egg glaze will be golden, as in the picture below. Let it cool before taking it out of the spring form, then carefully slice into 12 pieces and serve.

* for an even better flavor, the almond filling can be made up several days in advance. Keep refrigerated.