Sunday, February 6, 2011
On a cooking forum I sometimes browse, there was a discussion going on about how one name can mean several different things in the food world. One commenter used 'biscotti' as an example, although that's a pretty easy one to explain away since in Italian biscotti simply means cookies. The twice-baked dunkables we're used to seeing referred to by that term are better called cantuccini. Speculaas, however, are a bit harder if you don't know much about Dutch baking. As I don't.
I'd always thought of speculaas as being those iconic spiced windmill cookies which are traditionally made for St. Nicholas' Eve in early December in the low countries. But this recipe from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible uses the same term for what you can see definitely are not windmill shaped cookies. Turns out in my massive cookbook collection, I don't have anything specifically on Dutch baking, and all of my other recipes for speculaas were of the windmill variety. So I searched for 'filled speculaas' on good 'ol google and here's what I discovered.
There is such a thing as filled speculaas, but in most incarnations it seems to be a cake rather than a cookie, and is called Gevulde Speculaas, although I did find examples of it in cookie form. Both versions feature a spiced dough wrapped around a filling of ground almonds which have basically been made into marzipan (if we can table the debate for a moment about the difference between marzipan and almond paste). The recipe I used is a bit unique because it added hazelnuts to the almond mixture, which, in my opinion, is almost always a good idea.
One more note about ingredients with this one. The recipe calls for a teaspoon of 'apple pie' spice to be added to the dough. You could also use 'pumpkin pie' spice or really any spice mixture that is redolent of things like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. I don't really have any spice mixes in my cabinet, but I did have garam masala, which worked out so well when added to a spiced persimmon cake because it usually contains all of the spices I just mentioned. I figured it could work the same miracle here. I have to say, garam masala is becoming more and more my go-to spice for baking like this since I usually have a jar of it on the rack. So the point is, you can use whatever spicy, cinnamony mix you have on hand. A final point is that the dough can get a little sticky and hard to roll around the marzipan filling, but it's fine if you just kind of patch it up as you go. My dough split during baking anyway when the filling spread, but this is really no crisis and doesn't at all affect the taste or even the presentation really.
And now a note on process: To skin hazelnuts, just toast them in a 350F oven for 12-15 minutes and then when they're cool enough to handle, rub the skins off. For almonds I usually boil them and then slip the skins off, but almonds are relatively easy to find already blanched, so you might save yourself the trouble. If you don't have superfine sugar, or what the British call caster sugar, you can make it yourself by wizzing normal white sugar in a food processor for a moment until it's powdery.
Gevulde Speculaas with Hazelnuts
Adopted from Catherine Atkinson's The Cookie and Biscuit Bible
For the hazelnut almond marzipan:
6 oz ground hazelnuts, skins removed
6 oz ground almonds, also with the skins removed before you grind them
6 oz superfine sugar
6 oz confectioners' sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2-3 teaspoons lemon
For the dough:
9 oz self-rising flour. I used self-raising pastry flour because that's what I had. This substitution could be what made my dough a little less resilient and prone to tearing, but it worked out.
1 teaspoon mixed spice like 'apple pie', 'pumpkin pie' or garam masala
3 oz light brown sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) butter at room temperature, diced
1 large egg, beaten
For the glaze:
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
For the marzipan:
Put the ground nuts, both sugars, the beaten egg and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice into a bowl and stir until the mixture holds together. Add the rest of the lemon juice if your marzipan needs the extra liquid. Divide the marzipan in half and roll each half out like a kid does with play-dough to make a snake. Your logs should be about 10" long. Wrap them each separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the rest of the cookie.
For the dough:
Sift together the flour and the spice mixture into a large bowl and then stir in the brown sugar. Add the cubes of butter and rub them into the flour mixture until it looks a bit like very coarse sand. Add the beaten egg and knead the dough lightly until it holds together. Warp in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 305F and lay a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet. Set the sheet aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a square a bit larger than your marzipan logs, about 12". Cut the square evenly in half. Beat the egg for the glaze and brush it on the dough. You should have some egg left over.
Set the first marzipan log on one side of one of the rectangles, and roll the pastry up to encase the marzipan. I started my log on the more raggedy edges of the pastry so that the uneven edge would end up on the inside. Place the wrapped log seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other marzipan log and pastry rectangle.
To the remaining beaten egg, add the sugar and the milk and whisk together to form a glaze. Brush this glaze on top of each log. Bake for 30-35 minutes until browned. Let cool before you slice. It's best to use a serrated knife for slicing, since the pastry can be a bit crumbly. But just go slow and it will be fine.