Blog-checking lines: Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!
The first thing I check when reading a recipe for the first time is the spice blend that gives it character. There is something I find irresistible about mixing different spices in different proportions, feeling, smelling, tasting to make sure you get the perfect balance. So when this month’s challenge was announced I could not wait to make gevulde speculaas. Gevulde speculaas if you are not familiar with them are Dutch spice cookies filled with almond paste. Not only do these cookies look elegant but they are loaded with flavor. Biting into a slice of gevulde speculaas you will first get the buttery crust and topping. The texture is like that of a really dense cake or chewy cookie but the real pleasure is the explosion of warm spices in your mouth. Next comes a change of texture and flavor, a soft almond paste scented with lemon zest providing beautiful contrast to the crust, taking the edge off the spices and providing that perfect balance.
“speculaaskruiden” (speculaas spices) should always contain cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger. You can also add any or all of these spices to taste: pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg. The smell of speculaaskruiden is enchanting, especially if you take the trouble to mix them yourself. The delicious aroma of that blend of warm spices is perfectly suited for the cold winter months.
The longer you allow the spices time to permeate the dough, the better the out come. It is said that bakers sometimes make the dough up to three months in advance.
From the golden age onward, this spice mixture was used to bake a crisp, buttery biscuit: speculaas. For centuries it remained a luxury item, baked only in the holiday season, and often given as a present. In the course of time many recipes were created using speculaas spices. Speculaasjes (“speculaas cookies / windmill cookies”) which are shaped using a wooden mold, speculaasbrokken (“speculaas chunks”), kruidnoten (“spiced nuts / miniature spiced cookies”), gevulde speculaas (“speculaas stuffed with almond paste”). And it does not stop there: speculaas spices can be used in custards, cakes, muffins, bread toppings, cheesecake crusts and so on.
Speculaas Spices Recipe
You can buy the speculaas spices but making your own gives you a chance to smell and taste the different ingredients and adjust the proportions to your own taste and liking.The general rule you have to stick to is
cinnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount
ground cloves 1 or 2 parts
mace ½ or 1 part
ginger ½ or 1 part
white pepper ½ or 1 part
cardamom ½ or 1 part
coriander ½ or 1 part
anise ½ or 1 part
nutmeg 1 or 2 parts
The spice mix I used was
1 teaspoons of ground cloves,
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ginger.
1 teaspoon of cardamom
1 teaspoon of coriander
1 teaspoon of anise
Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.
Almond Paste recipe
You can use store bought almond paste but homemade almond paste tastes better.
7/8 cup (210 ml)(125 gm)(4½ oz) raw almonds (or 1-1/3 cups (320 ml)(125 gm) (4½ oz) ground almonds)
5/8 cup (150 ml) (125 grams) (4½ oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) lemon zest
If the raw almonds still have their brown skins, remove them as follows.
Bring water to a boil, add the almonds, cook them for one minute, drain immediately and let cool for a few minutes. Rub them between your fingers to remove the skins.
Grind the almonds for one or two minutes in a food processor, until you see nothing but very small pieces. (Or skip this step if you use ground almonds.)
Add the sugar, and grind for another one or two minutes. It must be very fine after this step.
Add the egg and let the food processor combine it
Store the almond paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Although the flavor gets better as days pass by, it is not wise to store the paste for too long, as it contains a raw egg. For the same reason you should not eat the paste unbaked.
To be safe, you could choose one of these options: use egg powder and water to replace the egg (follow instructions with the powder) use 50 ml of an other liquid, like lemon juice (in that case, leave the zest out) add the egg just before you are going to bake the pastry
The paste can also be kept in the freezer.
Speculaas Dough Recipe
1¾ cups (250 gm) (9 oz) all purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
¾ cup (150 grams) (5-1/3 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
a pinch salt
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) speculaas spices
3/4 cup (1½ stick) (175 gm) (6 oz) unsalted butter
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
Cut the butter into cubes and add to the dry ingredient.
Knead until you get a smooth dough. You may need to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.
If you wish to get more flavor it would be better to keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days
Assembling and baking the Gevulde Speculaas
whole almonds without skins for decoration
1 large egg
shallow baking pan, 8×10 inch (20×26 cm) or, round with of diameter 10 inch (26 cm)
1. Grease your pan or line it with parchment.
2. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas 4
3. Divide the dough in half into two parts.
4. Roll out both portions on a lightly floured surface, until they are the size of your baking pan.
5. Place one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to make sure it fills the bottom.
6. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water.(I used 1 teaspoon of vinegar with 2 teaspoons of water to avoid eggy smell)
7. Brush 1/3 of the egg over the dough in the pan.
8. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of clingfoil, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and gently transfer it to place it over the dough in the pan. (If you chose to make the paste soft, you can smear the paste instead of rolling it.)
9. Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan and to makw sure it adheres to the dough beneath it.
10.Brush the next 1/3 of the egg over it.
11. Place the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.
12. Smear the last 1/3 of the egg over the dough.
If you choose to cut the speculaas into squares or diamond shapes, score the dough with a knief before baking, that can help you with the decoration
13. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.(You can decorate the speculaas any way you like, you can use the almonds to draw patterns or flowers or trees. This is also the place to allow kids to help)
14. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven.
15. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut it in portions as you like.
16. If you wrap the stuffed speculaas in clingfoil, after it has cooled completely, you can store it a few days at room temperature. Freezing is possible, but fresh speculaas tastes better.
Notes about making Gevulde speculaas:
You can choose to make this recipe in one day. But to enjoy the full flavor you should make the dough a few days and allow the spices to permiate the dough. Because of the egg in the almond paste recipe you need to work hygienically and store it in the fridge for no more than 2 days or you can make the paste without the egg and store it in the fridge and then add the egg right before baking. Another option would be to replace the egg with another liquid like lemon juice or use powdered eggs (the ones you mix with water to reconstitute)
Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:
Speculaas spices: store them airtight, dry and dark, and they will not spoil for a long time. Almond paste: keep it in the refrigerator. Some people keep it there for months, but if it contains raw egg, I recommend not more than a few days. Can easily be frozen. Speculaas dough: can be kept in the refrigerator for days, or in the freezer for months. But remember: fresh tastes better.
Stuffed speculaas: if you let it cool completely, you can wrap it in clingfoil and keep it a few days at room temperature. And again: freezing is possible, but fresh is better
Thank you Francijn for a wonderful challenge.
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