When you visit Belgium, you will notice that Christmastime is always marked by the presence of Speculoos cookies. In fact, pretty much every day of the year is marked with Speculoos, but at Christmas, they go from being delicious small additions to a cup of coffee or tea to something altogether grander, culminating into huge cookies that are shaped into the image of Saint Nicolas in December. And Speculoos cookies are also a feature of Christmas in the Netherlands, where their name is slighly changed to Speculaas. If you want to make Speculaas cookies, you can make them either by rolling out the dough and cutting or by using the traditional wooden molds to shape into windmills, flowers or animals.
But there is also a different version of Speculaas, which is called Gevulde Speculaas, meaning “filled speculaas”. This delicious version is made with a layer of dough, similar to that used to make Speculaas cookies, then filled with almond paste, and topped with more dough. The whole is then baked, and finally cut into slices.
The dough is easily put together and so is the filling which I always just assumed was made from Marzipan, but it is something that the Dutch call Amandelspijs, meaning „almond paste“. This is a paste made from ground almonds, sugar and eggs, and somtimes with a little lemon zest which does add a little extra flavor and a certain freshness to the filling.
When it comes to the spices, there is traditional Dutch mixture called Speculaaskruiden, meaning “speculaas spices” that can be made from spices you probably have already stored in your cupboard. If you follow my blog, that spice mixture is rather well known to you. Personally I believe that Gevulde Speculaas is best made with freshly mixed spices but you could use other spice mixture you like, such as Pumpkin Pie Spices (rather American and available online), or even Mixed Spice (rather British and also available online as well as at your favorite British shop).
The resulting Gevulde Speculaas cake is very rich, as the speculaas does not turn crisp like the Speculaas cookies, but instead you get a spiced pastry encasing the rich almond filling. You can really use as little or as much filling as you like but I believe a ratio of equal parts pastry and filling seems to work best.
This recipe requires three components: first the Almond Paste for the filling. Second the Speculaas Spice Mix for the dough. And third the Speculaas Dough itself. You should start off by making the Almond Paste for the Filling:
Filling - Almond Paste
Ingredients for Almond Paste
- 125 grams (4½ oz) natural almonds, skins off
- 125 grams (10 tbsps) superfine (caster) sugar
- 1 egg (L), organic or free range
- 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest (organic lemon) NOTE: if you prefer a thicker layer of almond paste, you can double the amout of ingredients.
Preparation of the Almond Paste
- Grind the almonds for one or two minutes in a food processor, until rather fine.
- Then add the sugar, and grind for another minute or two.. The almonds should be very finely ground now.
- Add the egg and the lemon zest to the food processor and process further until the almond paste comes together.
- Wrap the almond paste well and place in the refrigerator. NOTE: If you prefer a more pronounced almond taste, you could always add a drop or two of natural almond extract - but remember when it comes to almond extract, a little goes a long way
Speculaas Spice Mix
Ingredients for the Speculaas Spice Mix
- 4 tsp ground cinnamon (*)
- 1 tsp ground cloves (*)
- 1 tsp ground mace (*)
- 1/3 tsp ground ginger (*)
- 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground white pepper
- 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground cardamom
- 1/5 tsp (a pinch) ground coriander seeds
- 1/5 tsp (a pinch) gound anise seeds or star anise
- (*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional
- NOTE: If you have whole spices at home, you can grind the spices yourself using a coffee grinder, or use a food processor and a fine sieve.
Preparation of the Speculaas Spice Mix
- Carefully measure out spices.
- Mix all spices well.
- Scoop the mix into a spice jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Label the jar with the name of the spice mix as well as the preparation date.
- And use for baking Speculaas cookies, Gevulde Speculaas, muffins, Christmas cookies, waffles, cakes and much more.
- Discard any leftovers after four months and make a new spice mix.
Pastry - Speculaas Dough
- 250 grams (2 cups) all purpose (plain) wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150 grams (¾ cup) light or dark brown sugar, firmly packed (such as the Dutch "Lichte Basterd Suiker" or "Donkere Basterd Suiker")
- a pinch of fine sea salt
- 2 tbsps Speculaas Spice Mix (see above recipe)
- 175 grams (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 2-3 tbsps milk (3.5%), optional NOTE: if you like you can add a bit of grated zest from an organic orange or mandarin/clementine to the dough..
- Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
- Cut the butter in dices, add to the flour mixture and knead until smooth.
- Add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
- Wrap in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for a good two hours.
Assembling and Baking the Gevulde Speculaas
- Cooled Speculaas Dough
- Cooled Almond Paste
- whole almonds without skins for decoration, halved, about 25 depending on your personal pattern
- 1 egg (L), organic or free range
- baking pan with removable bottom 26 cm – 28 cm (10-11 inches)
- Grease the baking pan with some butter, line bottom with some parchment paper and butter again.
- Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (356° F).
- Divide the dough into two portions.
- On a very lightly work surface, roll out both portions odf the dough until they are about the size of your baking pan.
- Put one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to fit the bottom.
- Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water.
- Brush some of the egg wash over the dough in the baking pan.
- Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of saran wrap, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and put it on the dough in the pan.
- Press the almond paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and brush some more of the egg wash over it.
- Now put the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.
- Brush the rest of the egg wash over the dough.
- Decorate the pastry with the halved almonds.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake feels firm to the touch.
- Let cool completely in the pan, then cut into pretty slices and serve the same day – but wrapped well, the Gevulde Speculaas keeps for a few days as it is very moist from the Alomnd Paste.
As I mentioned above, Speculaaskruiden („speculaas“ in the Netherlands, „speculoos“ in Belgium and „Spekulatius“ in Germany) is the typical flavor in a number of cookies and other baked goods. You can bake the traditional Speculaas Cookies with them (here are mine), you can also add the Speculaas Spice Mix to cakes and muffins like my Speculaas Muffins I made a few weeks ago (here) or wonderfully fragrant Speculaas Biscotti I made last December (here is the recipe).
So, there is no reason to wait any longer to bake a Gevulde Speculaas and then let your imagination be your guide and come up with other lovely creations using the amazingly fragrant and utterly delicious, seasonal Speculaas Spice Mix.