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Speculaasstaaf (Dutch Spiced Cookie Log Filled With Almond Paste)

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Serve hearty slices of this sweet yet spicy Dutch Christmas sweet with steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee. My recipe makes enough dough for 1 'speculaasstaaf' plus a sheet of 'speculaas' cookies (about 12). You could also make two of these festive logs, just remember to double the 'spijs' required.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) amandelspijs/almond paste (see Tips) per speculaasstaaf
  • -----------------------------------
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour (200 g)
  • 1/2 cup donkerbruine basterdsuiker (see Tips) or cane sugar (demerera)(100 g)
  • 7 tbsp butter (100 g)
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 3 tsp speculaaskruiden (see Tips) or pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • The finely grated zest of half an orange
  • ----------------------------------
  • A sprinkling of extra flour to dust the work surface
  • ----------------------------------
  • To decorate:
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Almonds, flaked or slivered
  • Optional: crystallized brown sugar (kandijsuiker)

Preparation:

Make the almond paste (see tips) and set aside.

Mix together the rest of the ingredients and knead until combined (you may use a mixer with a dough hook attachment for this). You should be able to shape the dough into a ball without it sticking to your hands. Add a few drops more milk, if needed. Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour. This allows the spices to work their magic.

Preheat the oven to 347 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Grease a baking sheet. Flour your work surface and roll out (or press) the dough into an even, flat layer, measuring roughly 12" x 5 1/2" (30 cm x 14 cm). Roll the almond paste into a sausage shape that is about 1" (3 cm) shorter than the pastry (lengthways). Place on the pastry. Fold in the short ends of the pastry first, and then fold over the sides and press firmly at the seams. It's almost like wrapping a Christmas present, which seems somewhat seasonally appropriate.

Now carefully flip the pastry over so that the seam is at the bottom. Brush with the beaten egg and decorate with the almonds and sugar. Bake for 25 minutes. The almonds should have turned a glorious caramel gold and the cookie dough should be a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack.

Makes 2, or 1 speculaasstaaf and a sheet of speculaas cookies.

TIPS:

  • Basterdsuiker is a typical Dutch product. It is manufactured by adding invert sugar and other ingredients to fine white refined sugar. This mixture helps to achieve certain textural structures and keeps baked goods moist. There are three varieties, white, brown and dark brown, called witte basterdsuiker, (licht)bruine basterdsuiker or gele basterdsuiker and donkerbruine basterdsuiker. It is widely available from Dutch supermarkets and some websites that sell Dutch groceries. I've had good results substituting the donkerbruine basterdsuiker in this recipe with pure cane sugar (demerera).
  • You can order little sachets of speculaas spices (known as speculaaskruiden) online. But you can easily substitute pumpkin pie spices. You can also make your own speculaaskruiden.
  • Make your own spijs (almond paste). You can also buy ready-made almond paste in most Dutch supermarkets, or online. If using store-bought spijs, simply mix one egg through it before using.
  • If, like me, you find using floured work surfaces a mess (perhaps you also have a black kitchen floor that shows up every speck, but I digress...), simply roll out the dough between layers of plastic wrap. Rest the dough in the plastic wrap and then use. I find that the plastic wrap also helps me to 'guide' the dough when rolling it up over the almond paste and helps to seal it nicely, because you can roll it on the work counter inside the plastic wrap - no mess, no fuss!
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