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I must confess that if it was not for Daring Baker’s Challenge I wouldn’t have “dared” to bake so many things. Even in my wildest of dreams I wouldn’t have thought about making-Armenian Nazook,Batternberg Cake,Dutch Crunch Bread,Povitica….and so on. DBC is such a wonderful platform to give folks an opportunity to pursue and hone their baking skills! What makes this even special is the exposure it gives to baking delicacies of different countries and ethnicities.

It is entirely my privilege to be a part of this forum. This month’s challenge reminded me of the Nanaimo Bars that we baked few years back on DBC. Very soon it going to be four years with Daring Baker’s and I have loved every bit of this exciting and enriching journey. Lets go ahead with yet another fascinating challenge – A traditional Dutch Pastry called GEVULDE SPECULAAS ( Stuffed Speculaas).

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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!

To start with we had to make the speculaas spice;the almond paste and then the speculaas dough.The entire recipe can be made in one day but to enjoy the full flavor it was recommended to refrigerate the almond paste and dough for a few days before assembling it.

Francijn mentioned about the history of Netherlands and spices – Until 1800 cloves, mace and nutmeg are exclusively found on the Maluku Islands, in the East Indian Archipelago. That’s why these islands are called “the spice islands”. To make one’s fortune in Europe through the spice trade, one needed a monopoly on the European trade. Since 1500 the Portuguese owned that monopoly.
The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, too, wanted to get rich from the spice trade, and established the Dutch East India Company around 1600, to join forces. Since 1660 the monopoly on spice trade was firmly in Dutch hands. In the Dutch Golden Age, roughly the 17th century, the republic got rich through this trade, and flourished like never before, economically, artistically and scientifically. In many Dutch cities the heritage of this century is still visible. Sadly, this wealth must be considered in the light of war and repression. The Dutch used much violence and oppressed people to establish and defend their monopoly.

Only after World War II Dutch India became independent from the Netherlands. Until that moment the trade of spices, coffee, rubber, tobacco, opium, sugar, indigo and tea from Dutch India contributed significantly to the Dutch economy.
In light of this historical involvement of the Netherlands in the spice trade, the contents of my kitchen cupboard are not surprising. Anise seeds, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, lemon grass, mace, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, curry powder, cumin, coriander seeds, cloves, galangal, mustard seed, nutmeg, paprika, allspice, saffron, vanilla, fennel, white pepper, black pepper. And that’s without the long list of herbs.

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SPECULAAS SPICES

When spices had become commonly available in the 17th century, bakers’ guilds began to make their secret spice mixtures. A mixture that gloriously survived the ages is “speculaaskruiden” (speculaas spices). Speculaaskruiden contain at least cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, and these spices to taste: pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg.The smell of speculaaskruiden is overwhelming, especially when you take the trouble to mix them yourself. The deliciously warm and woody aroma is a perfect fit for the chilly Dutch winter months.
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. Sometimes bakers made the dough three months in advance so that the flavor would permeate the dough.Ever since the 15th century, the 6th of December has been celebrated as the nameday of St. Nicholas, combined with an exchange of gifts on the evening before. But in the age of the Dutch East India Company St. Nicholas became associated with speculaas. And that is not so strange, as St. Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors as well as many bakers’ guilds.

In the course of time many recipes using speculaas spices have been created. 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 that is not the end of it: speculaas spices can be used in custards, cakes, muffins, bread toppings, cheesecake crusts and so on.
Recipe Speculaas SpicesSpeculaas spices can be bought in a store. But it’s more fun to make your own mixture, so that you can adjust the flavor. Here is a representative recipe from the extensive Dutch tradition.

Mandatory:
cinnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount
ground cloves 1 or 2 parts
mace ½ or 1 part
ginger ½ or 1 part
Optional:
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
A convenient way to mix the spices is as below:

GEVULDE SPECULAAS – TRADITIONAL DUTCH PASTRY

SPECULAS SPICE
Take at least 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, ½ or 1 teaspoon of mace and ½ or 1 teaspoon of ginger.
Add to taste ½ or 1 teaspoon of white pepper, ½ or 1 teaspoon of cardamom, ½ or 1 teaspoon of coriander, ½ or 1 teaspoon of anise, and 1 or 2 teaspoons of nutmeg.Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.This method yields at least 4 and at most 18 teaspoons of spices, so if you plan to mix just a few spices, use bigger or more spoons to get a reasonable amount.

Take your time to smell the ingredients individually before you decide how much to add. And remember the proportions,that will make adjustments easier next time. Store the spices airtight, dry and dark, they will not spoil for a long time.

ALMOND PASTE
Ingredients:

1-1/3 cups ground almonds
5/8 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Add Almonds and sugar, grind for one or two minutes. Add the egg and let the food processor combine it. You’ll end up with a sticky mass of almonds paste. Store it 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.

SPECULAAS DOUGH

Ingredients:
1¾ cups all purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
a pinch salt
2 tablespoons speculaas spices
3/4 cup unsalted butter

Directions:Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.Cut the butter in dices and add.Knead until smooth.Feel free to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.You can choose to make the dough a few days in advance, just like the almond paste, that will benefit the flavor. Freezing is no problem.

ASSEMBLING

Ingredients:
speculaas dough
almond paste
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)

Directions:
Grease the pan. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F. Divide the dough into two portions.Roll out both portions on a lightly floured surface, until they are exactly as big as the baking pan. Put one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to fill the bottom. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water. Smear 1/3 of the egg over the dough in the pan. Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of clingfoil, until it is exactly as big as the pan, and put it on the dough in the pan. (If you chose to make the paste soft, you can smear the paste instead of rolling it.) Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and smear the next 1/3 of the egg over it. Now put the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible. Smear the last 1/3 of the egg over the dough. Decorate the pastry with the almonds. Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut it in portions as you like. 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.

While mixing the spices – I smelt each and every one of them. I could feel it’s wonderful aroma fill up the entire house while baking. The nutty almond filling sandwiched between two layers of crunchy Speculaas dough was yum. The sweet level was perfect, just like the way I like – not too sweet.

While I was planning to decorate the pastry with almonds,I came across Hannah’s comment in the DBC forum. She had decorated her pastry so beautifully and I was totally inspired by her creativity. I decorated mine in a similar way!

Thanks Francijn for such a lovely challenge!

Bon Apetite!

Nina

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