As December 5 approaches, children in the Netherlands are getting all excited about the visit of Sinterklaas, that 3rd century bishop who visits the Netherlands on a steamboat from Spain every year. He brings goodies and gifts for the kids. Some gifts are accompanied with a tongue-in-cheek rhyme, often referring to something the kids (and adults) did wrong, with the purpose of good humoured embarrassment.
Speculaas and Marzipan
Closely associate with Sinterklaas (or Saint Nicolaas) is marzipan, speculaas, pepernoten and hot chocolate. Marzipan comes in all kinds of shapes and as a kid I never really liked it. It is basically a mixture of ground almond, eggs, icing sugar and often food colouring.
That same mixture with slight modifications is also very popular when embedded in the layers of speculaas. This combination is called ‘gevulde speculaas’.
Some of you recognise the word ‘gevulde’, as it is close to the Jiddish word ‘gefilte’ as in ‘gefilte fish’ and means ‘filled’ or ‘stuffed’. While speculaas cookies (cookie is derived from the Dutch word koekje) are crunchie, gevulde speculaas is softer. The filling in the speculaas is not called marzipan, but ‘spijs’ in Dutch. It has nothing to do with ‘spices’ but we do add some great spices to the speculaas dough though.
It is fairly easy to make and great for the holidays, but also to take as a snack on the ski. You need to make a dough and a filling.
Here is the recipe. The original recipe I have called for much more sugar, but I am cutting it back by a third.
Add together in one bowl:
1 cup of butter, chopped up somewhat
1 cup of brown sugar
3 cups of flour
1 egg (save a bit for the glaze)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp all spice
(note, you can play with the spices to your taste)
Knead all this ingredients to a ball. I do it by hand in 5 minutes and I don’t know id you can do it with a machine.
300 grams of ground almond (bulk store, grocery store)
150 grams of white sugar
pinch of salt
juice of half a lemon (or use a couple of table spoons from a bottle)
Kneading the speculaas mix
You can knead the spijs mixture into a ball too, but rolling it out is a hassle, so once it is well kneaded, I break it down on top of the first layer of speculaas.
Divide the dough in half and roll it out on a flat surface dusted with flour. Make it big enough so it covers the bottom of your pan and part of the sides. The baking tin should be about 12″ x 9″ (or similar).
Break the filling into pieces and divide it over the dough layer, press it down with a fork until it forms a solid layer.
Roll out the top layer, made with the other half of the dough on a flat surface and put it on top of the filling. Possible leftover bits and pieces can be tucked away along edges and in corners. It doesn’t have to look perfect. (I often eat half of it though)
Optional: Put sliced almonds or almond halves on top. Remember you saved a bit of egg for the glaze? Cover the top with this egg glaze.
Shove the tin in the preheated oven at 350°F for about 25 minutes. Let it cool down and then cut it in squares inside the tin. Or put a cutting board on top, flip it over, and use another cutting board to flip it over again so that you have the right side up.
I don’t enjoy the gifting part at Sinterklaas (nor at Christmas) much, but I do like the goodies that come with Sinterklaas. If you liked it, I suggest you also make original Dutch pea soup.