Today was my birthday and in the Netherlands it is customary (although not everyone complies) to treat your co-workers to cake on your birthday. This cake can be store-bought or homemade, and it’s easy to guess what I chose. I love gevulde speculaas, which is spiced sweet shortbread (speculaas or also known as speculoos outside the Netherlands), stuffed with almond paste. Speculaas is very Dutch, as it celebrates the spices that were imported by the Dutch (from today’s Indonesia) in the 17th century. It is very popular around the St Nicholas celebration (December 5). The spice mix contains many of the spices that were very exotic back then: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardemom, and white pepper. The combination with almonds works very well.
I’ve made gevulde speculaas before, but this time it turned out even better than before because I used the recipe of famous but retired pastry chef Holtkamp. A number of factors are important to good stuffed speculaas:
- Allowing the dough to ‘ripen’ in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop (and the dough to rest);
- The right proportion of speculaas to almond paste (i.e. a thick layer of almond paste between thin layers of speculaas);
- Using enough of the spice mix (which is often not the case in cheap store-bought versions);
- Using actual butter and actual almonds (which is often not the case in cheap store-bought versions).
The speculaas spice mix and almond paste needed to make this may not be available where you are, but you can easily make them yourself.
The gevulde speculaas was spectacular and very popular at the office today. Here’s how I made it. The only difference with Holtkamp’s recipe is that I made a square rather than a round version and that I used a stand mixer.
For the speculaas dough
400 grams (2 1/2 cups) pastry flour
225 grams (1 1/4 cup) brown sugar or cane sugar
4.5 grams (5/8 tsp) salt
30 grams (4 Tbsp) speculaas spice mix (to make it yourself, mix 8 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp ground nutmeg, 2 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cardemom,1 tsp ground white pepper; this will make 5 Tbsp so you will have some left over)
7 grams (1 3/4 tsp) baking powder
200 grams (14 Tbsp) butter, at room temperature, cubed
30 ml (2 Tbsp) water
For the stuffing and topping
600 grams (1.3 lbs) almond paste, cubed (to make it yourself, coarsely grind 300 grams (2 cups) blanced almonds with 300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar and then continue to grind while you add a beaten egg until it has the right texture; allow the flavors to develop in the refrigerator for at least four days)
50 grams (3 1/2 Tbsp) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
45 ml (3 Tbsp) water
25 blanched almonds, for decoration
Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop. Take the dough out of the refrigerator about an hour before you’d like to proceed, otherwise it will be too tough to work with.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Take one piece and shape it into a thick square with your hands. Sprinkle a wooden work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a square of 25 by 25 cm (10 by 10 inches).
This is also a good time to turn on the oven to preheat it to 180ºC/350ºF (without fan).
Two years ago I blogged about white asparagus with turbot (both cooked sous-vide), served with a hollandaise sauce. This is a lovely combination and the ‘foolproof’ hollandaise is much easier than the classic technique to prepare it.